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
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
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.