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April 28, 2008

Data chart of the week: who do people trust?

by Josh Bernoff

For today's weekly data chart we'll look at a different kind of data for a change -- not a Social Technographics Profile but some attitudinal data that's highlighted in Groundswell. Today's question is: whom do you trust?

groundswell figure 7-1

As you can see, 83% trust the word of a friend. But perhaps one of the more interesting points is that the number who trust consumer reviews by people they never met on a retailer's site (like eBags, the example in Groundswell) is 60%, only slightly lower than "a review by a known expert."

Why do people trust strangers?

They don't, not as individuals. But they do in groups. Strangers are assumed not to have an axe to grind. If 100 people on eBags say a laptop bag is great, then it is great. If they say it's inferior, then it is inferior. Regardless of what a so-called "expert" might say.

What does this mean for your brand?

It means that a focus on "influencers" is not enough. You never know who may be reviewing your product, or where. Influencers may touch a lot of people, but so do the masses of reviewers on Yelp, or Amazon.com, or TripAdvisor. And heaven forbid you get people talking about your brand on The Consumerist.

If most of your customers like you, the lesson is this: help them to talk. Install ratings and reviews on your site. Create a blog and let them respond. Give them online tools and energize them. And embrace the fan groups they form on social networks. Fan the flames.

What if your customers don't like you? Shutting them up is not an option. My only useful case study for this is Dell, which (1) started to seek out bloggers who were complaining and solved their problems to make them happier and (2) actually improved their customer service. That's expensive. But if you're in a cutthroat market it's required.

Frankly, I don't have a completely satisfactory answer, so I'm throwing it open to you. What should a company with a poor customer reputation do about social media? Join the discussion about it on our discussion board.


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Hi Josh

Would you not say it is primarily down to the type of company that has the poor reputation, and what it can realistically expect to get away with.

To take your example, Dell is a tech product that can reasonably expect a fair proportion of its consumers to operate within social media. Therefore, it is perfectly understandable that it has to outlay to fight the problem head-on.

A household good, though, may want to expand online because it seems the thing to do, but there is no compelling business reason for it to do so. I believe that sort of product could probably ignore any negative online commentary, and concentrate to advertising to the mass at POS or on TV


Ori Inbar

loved your web 2.0 expo session...and...am curious if you have seen any new enterprise-oriented apps that have embraced social networking tools to provide specific business value (such as ERP/CRM/SCM/PLM were in the past).
I have only seen some sprinkles such as faceforce, trampoline systems:Sonar, WorkLight ZOHO CRM...



Lindy Dreyer

Thank you for pointing out the importance of the masses in your book and in this post. It's easy for executives to get caught up in the silver-bullet promise of influencers to propel their business to the next level. To me, the influencer approach always seemed disingenuous. I see influencers as icing on the cake, not a central strategy.

lawrence berezin

Dear Josh,

Very interesting chart. I expected a "bloggers review" to warrant a higher percentage of trust. Wrong again.

Great question. Assuming that a bad reputation is reflected in customer on line criticisms, I suggest responding on line with the folloiwng actions:

1. Contact the source and listen carefully to the basis of the criticism. If warranted, fix the problem. If not, deal with the criticism by offering the company's side of the story to the customer and on line.

2. If contacting the source is not possible, investigate the complaint. If justified, fix it and respond on line.

3. Deal with all complaints in an open, honest, transparent manner.

4. Don't be defensive. Turn the criticism into something positive for your company and customers. Publish actions taken on line.


This all makes a great deal of sense, but don't the categories overlap sometimes? For example, while the "blogger" is the least-trusted on the chart, and "friend" is the most-trusted, in this "friend-me" age, people often DO consider some bloggers they've never met to be "friends".
It would be interesting to know more about the category descriptions, or at least how they were perceived by survey participants. A blogger perceived as a 'friend' despite being someone you've never met is dramatically different from 'some random blogger' (no matter how popular).

Jordan V

I too was surprised with some of these numbers. Like Lindy, I thought a blogger's review would warrant a higher level of trust. It seems natural that a blogger would serve as a mix between a journalist and a consumer, but apparently that's not always the case.

For companies with a poor reputation, I think the first natural step is providing an outlet where customers can voice their concerns and issues. The example of Dell's blog is great - but even a simple forum or message board lets customers feel like they are truly being heard. By empowering customers to raise issues, a company not only has an idea of what needs to be changed but will probably be seen as more open and transparent by its customers. That may not solve all the reputation problems, but it has a tendency to help move things in the right direction.

Ken Kadet

I find this chart to have so little information, it's maddening. How many people were surveyed? How was the sample found? Was it weighted in any way? What's the margine for error? The source is a survey from Q3 2006 ... has the study been repeated since then? Might some of the counter-intuitive findings be reflective of the fact that the study is nearly 2 years old?

But most importantly, what is the demographic breakdown? Were there any significant differences this by age? Gender? Income?

Making business and communications strategy decisions based on this chart would be problematic at best.

But I'd welcome the chance to learn more!


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