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Quality Over Quantity: Why We Trust Our Friends Less Than Ever

February 9, 2010

We’ve covered friending in this little corner of the internets before, and as it turns out, we don’t really trust said friends as much as marketers and advertisers want to believe.

“Build community,” they insist.

“Crowdsource!” they exclaim.

Or… maybe hold off. Because it looks like our so-called besties, while mighty fruitful in number, are not the ones we’re turning to for information when we need to make significant decisions. Peer-to-peer sharing is one of the most important tenets of SMM. The thinking is that if something is cool/fun/different/gross/good-tasting/alcoholic we’re going to pass it around our network, and our network will respond accordingly. A recent study by PR powerhouse agency Edelman revealed that in 2008, 45% of people surveyed trusted their “friends” to be credible sources. This year: 25%.

Our screens and brains are completely surfeited, and this is markedly to blame for the shift. We’re no longer afforded the luxury of surfing from one site to the next without interruption marketing doing its job. In the not so distant past, you could read articles, share stories, check out your ex-boyfriend’s status on Facebook without being bombarded by ads. We respond by tuning out said ads and generally paying little to no attention. Plus, at this point, everyone you know is in the review game, recommending restaurants, suggesting you try out video games (don’t get me started on the Madden social media folks who keep sending me junk. LEAVE ME ALONE), pushing laundry detergent, whatever. And now that we’ve become wanton with our friending ways, we’re forced to make the distinction between whose opinions matter to us and whose we can routinely ignore. As good as we’ve gotten at multi-tasking (though, trust me, you’re still not good enough to text and drive), we simply cannot pay attention to everything anymore. These two factors combined make for a cocktail lethal to our attention spans. We aren’t buying what you’re selling. If we didn’t trust ads before, we really don’t trust them now.

On top of this, if we even so much as allude to a product or company in written form, by name, somewhere on the Internet, it’s bound to come back to haunt us. Savvy marketers, for better or worse, will sniff this type of behavior out. I once jokingly told a non-Jewish friend I was going to sign her up for Jdate and vet everyone who contacted her. Jdate inevitably found me via Twitter. Jdate, if you’re reading this: I’m all set, but thanks!

As the AdAge article points out, it is becoming increasingly obvious that blog posts, tweets, websites full of glowing reviews and testimonials sometimes turn out to be farce of epic proportion. For an industry that preaches transparency, some of us – not pointing any fingers – have done an excellent job of making it nearly impossible to tell the difference between what’s real, what’s fake, and what’s paid for (which, in all fairness, you were probably paid money to make happen). The FTC stepped in recently to bring the proverbial hammer down on those who were promoting products for a fee and not disclosing that information. I have yet to see any of these new rules enforced (e.g., Gwyneth Paltrow). Much like the public, the FTC is finding it hard to discern what is and is not genuine. Instead of trusting everyone, we’re trusting no one. One bad apple spoils the bunch, as the old axiom goes.

The lesson here is that your peer-to-peer strategy cannot operate in a silo. It must seamlessly intertwine with other arms of your marketing plan. Your expectations of how many people share your content/product/service should be in direct proportion to the awesomeness of your content/product/service. Peer-to-peer sharing is an added benefit, not a strategy in and of itself. There are things you can do to grease the wheels and make it easier for consumers to share your materials with their networks, so make sure you employ those tools. Then when you launch your next campaign, you rest easy knowing that, if your content is good, it’ll spread.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 9, 2010 5:00 pm

    I discovered your homepage by coincidence.
    Very interesting posts and well written.
    I will put your site on my blogroll.

  2. February 9, 2010 8:52 pm

    It is a complete trust, sweetened with a lot more understanding and communication than most people will ever know. Direct Marketing

  3. February 10, 2010 7:02 pm

    Hear, hear, Esther: Well said! I think we’re ALL dazed by the surfeit and bombardment, and I hear your “LEAVE ME ALONE.” (An aside: I’m personally PO’d at Facebook right now for the ads they’re flinging my way. I’m a youthful “femme d’une certaine age,” but you wouldn’t know it looking at the suddenly geriatric ads on my profile page. “Leaky bladder?” “Trouble hearing on the phone?” The ads started changing when I hit my milestone 50th bday, this month. It’s insulting!)

    I plan to pare down my network a bit this weekend: Do a little unfriending and unfollowing, circle my wagons, cut to the core. Meanwhile, you hit the nail right when you say, “If your content is good, it’ll spread.” YOUR content is good: I enjoy your fresh take on matters PR and Marketing. Thanks for sharing!

    • Esther Steinfeld permalink*
      March 9, 2010 11:19 am

      Hope your paring down was successful! It’s always a challenge, isn’t it? 🙂

  4. February 16, 2010 2:01 pm

    Nice article and new perspective on online marketing. While I agree with a lot of the points you made, I think that it’s inevitable that marketing and advertising is going to follow whatever is hot on the internet. I suppose one solution for people on the internet who do not want to be marketed to is to create their own social network; but then again, who would do that? I will say thought that though the ads on Facebook sometimes drive me crazy, I would prefer the ads and have the service be free of charge than to have a clean, non-Nascar’ed interface that had a monthly charge.

    But again, your thoughts are interesting and very entertaining!
    All the best to you and your endeavors.

    • Esther Steinfeld permalink*
      March 9, 2010 11:21 am

      Completely agree. We have to deal with ads if we want these networks to remain free, though we sure do pay for it with all the disruptions. Thanks for your perspective!

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