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Sharing is caring? Increased sharing creates noise for marketers

The concept of product reviews and sharing what you do is hardly a new concept in the online world. But with start-ups like Foursquare, Gowalla and Blippy, whose sole concept is built around sharing an experience tied to a brand or a place, the lines between recommendation focused players like Yelp and the barrage of messages from other services are starting to blur.

The New York Times points to the fact that privacy concerns have gone with the wind, as the social network scene is now used to share product purchases. In a quest for their 15 minutes (or more) of fame, there seems to be the perception that people really want to know what you do. One eager “sharer” said:

It’s very important to me to push out my character and hopefully my good reputation as far as possible, and that means being open,” he said, dismissing any privacy concerns by adding, “I simply have nothing to hide.”

The sharer, a Mr Brooks, refers to his “character” as an important online brand that has a following that really wants to know what he is up to. And  no doubt he follows his stats on Twitter or elsewhere to see how many people read about his experience standing in line for the iPad (not that I know if he did, but it seems like that guess is not far off). But is this wave of sharing providing real value to marketers?

Forrester identified a certain group of people called “Mass Influencers”. The group is divided into “Mass Connectors” who provide a lot of impressions about brands in the social media sphere, and “Mass Mavens”, who create and share content about the services. No doubt you want to have people speak favorably about your brand, but with the level of noise about shared brand experiences increasing to a deafening level, at what point do we simply start to ignore this group of people, and revert back to the people who we used to rely on advice for – our friends?  (No, not our Facebook friends, I mean the “real” ones, that you physically see at least a couple of times a month).

I really question the value of spending marketing dollars on the Mass Influencers without really understanding how and whom they are supposedly influencing.  I do think online product reviews are useful, and statistics from the Social Shopping Study confirms that this is the case. 50% of respondents in the survey confirmed that they read between four and seven reviews before making a purchase, and that portion of consumers has been fairly consistent over the past few years. But also interesting in this study is that only 6% of the people surveyed rank social media sites as places to research products.

So while tweets and check-ins may provide useful SEO opportunities for brands, they fall short of providing the true measurement of success: recommendations that lead to a purchase. Marketers are better off focusing on identifying “hyper influencers”, those that are considered trusted advisors by friends and strangers, as well as serious online review sites.  But the key would be to identify the influencers in a micro-setting, i.e. those that influence a small close knit group of friends, who may not have a blog touting their expertise in gadgets or travel, but rather are seemed like someone great at giving advice to their friends. Now there is a start-up idea…

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Continuing the Discussion

  1. The Social Graph: The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for marketers? linked to this post on December 22, 2010

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