How Are Web Consumers Making Their Decisions?

ChoiceCommon wisdom in recent years has proven that social networking is an essential element of a company or brand’s online presence and marketing mix. However, as the scope of social networking broadens and becomes more commonplace, the danger exists that consumers can become jaded and less open to its influence. Now more than before, it appears that a strong social networking approach must be just one part of a larger strategy.

“The events of the last 18 months have scarred people,” said Richard Edelman, CEO and President of Edelman Public Relations, in an AdvertisingAge interview. “People have to see messages in different places and from different people. That means experts, as well as peers or company employees. It’s a more skeptical time. So if companies are looking at peer-to-peer marketing as another arrow in the quiver, that’s good—but they need to understand it’s not a single-source solution. It’s a piece of the solution.”

Recent reports by Edelman, for example, have shown that consumers are trusting their peers less: only 25% now, as opposed to 45% in 2008. That’s a drop of nearly half in the past two years. Experts like Edelman are recommending varying forms of marketing reinforcement, specifying that consumers may need to see and hear things in as many as five different places before they trust it.

It’s possible that the social networks themselves can be contributing to the decline in trust. For instance, with Facebook and Twitter permitting people to connect with vast amounts of “friends” and acquaintances, the credibility of the network itself can be diluted. The more acquaintances a person has, the less likely consumers may be to trust that person when making a purchase decision.

Another possible reason is that consumers may be getting wise to the influence marketers have on these social networks. Blog posts and tweets are often part of marketing messages, either directly or as a result of companies sending out products for review. Even in a third-party review, there’s the possibility of the “reviewer” being swayed by having received a product as part of a market-driven effort.