Blogs vs Social Networks

How do next-gen consumers relate to content on blogs and social networks, and what does it mean for marketing?

I thought I’d unpack some of my thoughts about the Edelman Trust Barometer survey and the Universal McCann Wave 3 study. So all the helpful research & numbers & graphs come from their great work, and the dumb thoughts about them are just my rambling on.

1. The Relative Unimportance of Blogs & Social Networks

Edelman Trust Barometer, 2008. Page 11.

According to Edelman, blogs and social networks are among the very least used and least credible sources of information about a brand or product. They are less credible than a company’s own website.

Social networks have the edge, however: they tie with corporate advertising at 22% credibility. That’s almost twice as good as a blogger’s credibility (a measly 12%). A CEO blogging about his own company is also roughly 22% credible. A regular employee blogging about his own company is almost twice as credible as that.

On the other end, of course, are traditional media sources such as news reports and industry analysts. And friends and peers.

The conclusion Edelman drew: consumers trust “people like me.” That’s a 60% credible group.

A different conclusion I drew: consumers trust a certain degree of objectivity coupled with insider knowledge. Thus a CEO is more credible than a random blogger. A regular employee carries a greater expectation of objectivity, and thus is even more credible. At the far remove, disinterested journalists and analysts who have performed objective research.

2. The Limits of Socializing

Some quick hits from the Wave 3 study:

  • 26% of US internetters have begun a blog
  • 57% have joined a social network
  • 55% have uploaded a photo
  • 22% have uploaded a video
  • 33% manage their social networking page daily (total 65% do it weekly)

Keeping in mind the low trust all this content creation engenders, it raises some obvious questions: Why? Well, looking at some other numbers in the study, 56% percent say blogs are about self-expression. And most post about their personal life. And almost 2/3 of blogs read are personal diaries.

Blogs aren’t about persuasion. And they aren’t about other people. They’re about you, talking about you.

Blogs are top-down. Commenters can’t drive topics.

3. Blogs vs Social Networks

Universal McCann Wave 3, page 38

Universal McCann Wave 3, page 39

Note the heavy, frequent usage of social networks, and also that 74% of it is messaging friends.

The social networks are social. They are peer-to-peer. They are word of mouth.

4. So What?

This is the part where I make even wilder leaps of reason, desperately reaching for straws to grasp. But I swear all this is just to engender discussion.

A. Don’t stop blogging. Just stop dominating the discussion.

Consumers say that a company that blogs is 1/3 more trustworthy (accordig to Edelman, of course). But watch for blogs to become less top-down and more open. Like on Daily Kos: the Diaries open things up to many more contributors, and they’re even working on their own wiki.

B: Meet your consumers.

Trustworthiness skyrockets to almost 2/3 for “people like me”–that is, people who share interests and activities with the consumer you want to persuade. (Edelman again!) So find out what those interests are, and engage with them. Even if they don’t have much to do with your brand.

C: Be Honest.

Remember that objectivity raises trustworthiness. So if you make a mistake, own up to it. If you’re critical of something you’ve done, open up about it. Then when you praise yourself it’s more credible.

D: Take blogs with a grain of salt.

Consider the level of performance that goes on: these aren’t unpracticed voices. I disagree with Edelman McCann (edit!) when it argues that blogs are an accurate source of consumer opinion. And consumers seem to agree, given the lack of trust they put in blogs.

E: Most importantly, focus on social networks.

I dissed Edelman McCann (edit!) in the last point, so I’ll grant them one here: social networks are becoming the way consumers organize their internet experience. In the latest Fallon Brainfood talk, Aki Spicer notes that applications need to be “slippy.” By this he means APIs and Widgets that let users take good functionality and use it as they want, where they want. Look for social networks to become more interoperable, and maybe more like aggregators. Like Netvibes.

The point is, become an enabler of this: sponsor social networks. Or sponsor widgets. Or just make it easy for consumers to do.

But avoid interruptive ads. No page takeovers. And maybe banners and their sub-1% clickthroughs are dying out. Enable the peer-to-peer conversations, don’t interrupt them.


14 Responses to “Blogs vs Social Networks”

  1. April 25, 2008 at 10:40 am

    For great ‘endorsements’ of the value of social networks (videos):
    1. HR Block – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y8O1_02PoZs
    2. Zappos – http://video.zdnet.com/CIOSessions/?p=267

  2. April 25, 2008 at 11:03 am

    This is a very good post. I do keep hearing time and again when I go to seminars that blogs are only of 3% importance. If that is true, then why do bloggers dominate conversation? From television networks blogging to companies to PR firms to consumers, everyone wants a voice (like you said you talking about you) and they do it through blogging. I am a blogger myself and I find it more credible than reading a magazine or watching the news. Real truth and voice happen in blogging.

    I don’t know the statistics on the percentage of content driven blogs vs. personal diaries, but I think “trustworthiness” comes with who the blogger is. I am more likely to trust a review on a well established blog than one that seems to only regurgitate press releases.

    I love social networks, but I do think that this is fragmenting where consumers are just by how many networks seem to be popping up everywhere. The ones that offer different layers and tools to their network will eventually thrive.

  3. 5 bendy3008
    April 25, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    Ouch Marty. But, yeah, I admit I got pretty rambly there. And a lot of those thoughts aren’t new–I was just trying to reconcile the 2 reports on a couple points.

    Shannon, thanks. I agree that well-established blogs earn my trust more easily–and definitely I have problems with MSM. But I think social network fragmentation is something that’s going to be resolved soonish. Projects like OpenSocial are aimed at it squarely.

    Paula–great videos! Brought to mind how some brands are keeping an eye on the Consumerist. I wonder how often consumers feel creeped out by this kind of outreach…

  4. 6 Mia
    April 27, 2008 at 10:58 pm

    Good post! I wanted to point out one thing and that’s ‘Conversations with friends & peers’ ranks very high, while the social networks rank low. But what about the conversations that happen through the social networks? In theory, social networks and blogs faciliate conversations with family and peers, hence they should be more influential than what this research indicates.

  5. April 28, 2008 at 9:09 am

    20% traffics are from Facebook.It is a quite good figure.In fact,if you build up strong network in social network,you will see the big effect to your blog.

  6. 8 bendy3008
    May 2, 2008 at 8:57 am

    Mia, right on. I think that’s the slippage in these studies–what gets lost is how people are interacting with real friends versus the “friends” like MySpace’s Tom.

    Who, I must admit, I unfriended when I first signed up ages ago. It creeped me out that he wants to be everyone’s friend!

  7. May 2, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    Great article. I think bloggers that use Twitter or other more personal status services add a bit more credibility to their corporate blogging. It shows the content is uncensored and dictated by a department head.

    This is one of the reasons Twitter is doing so well, it brings in a personal element to an otherwise structured corporate blogosphere.

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