November 11, 2009The key to social media is trust.

I think it’s just a fact we’re going to have to live with. As soon as an idea gets co-opted by the advertising industry, people’s attitude toward it changes. In much the same way as I think the death-knell of Twitter was sounded by its adoption as a campaigning vehicle by the major political parties (how uncool is that?) so too is social media, in a wider sense, being corrupted by our efforts as advertisers to harness the buzz-generating power of a good viral campaign.

It’s inevitable. Most people see social media as a way of connecting with their friends. Nobody sees it as a glorified mechanism for product placement except for advertisers and their clients. People are going to start blocking out marketing-related social media the same way they kill adverts with AdBlock Plus (which I use, by the way — it’s there, who wouldn’t?).

We’re killing the golden goose.

Brand Republic reported today that only 33% of customers trust social networking sites to provide the information they require to make an informed decision about a purchase.

I’ll qualify that with the following comments:

  • It’s perfectly possible the study was commissioned with the aim of putting social media in a bad light. But cui bono — who benefits? Most agencies are stampeding over one another to reach the top of the social media pile. This study should give us all pause for thought.
  • The statistic is 33% to “make an informed decision” about a purchase. It’s perfectly possible that 99% of social network users see social media as part of the process of making an informed decision. They’ll then google prices, reviews, etc —  while social media may not be the deciding factor, it still has an influence. You wouldn’t buy something just because someone’s twittered about it. But you might read a review about it, or go and check one out in the shops.
  • When compared to the 68% who trust “other online sources”  such as price comparison websites, it’s clear that social media isn’t the ‘magic bullet’ some commentators were making out it was. In fact, it’s perfectly possible that social media just isn’t that important.

But why isn’t social media as important as a price comparison website? The answer lies with the question of trust. 33% trust social media. 68% trust other sources.

I think the flood of digital marketing agencies towards ‘harnessing’ social media is responsible for this lack of trust.

How do we we rebuild trust in social media?
The answer’s simple. We stop milking it for all it’s worth.

Consumers are getting smarter. They were never dumb. But the more information they have at their fingertips, the harder it is to pull the wool over their eyes. So don’t try.

Inform first. Persuade second.
Then, when that’s done, try to sell.

Nobody likes spam. They do like product comparison websites. Nobody likes being told what to think — or what to buy — they do like making informed choices. And if you talk to them like human beings, they’ll listen.

That’s the way to use social media.

Engage with your customers. Strengthen your brand by building up trust — talk to them. Social media is a conversation. It’s not a platform for you to shout your wares like a Sunday market trader.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 11th, 2009 at 2:11 am and is filed under Blog, Social Media. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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  1. […] wrote some time ago that the drive towards monetizing social media was “killing the goose that lays the golden egg“. And it seems as if my prediction is starting to come true. Prominent people are deleting […]

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