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Digital opinion

Ever-shrinking personal networks and the value of the "inner circle"

Our increased usage of social networks has ensured that the word "friend" is used loosely to mean someone you are friends with online, and have met offline. The value of product recommendations by "friends," according to Nielsen, has increased to a record 92%, while our trust in advertising is at an all-time low and the falling advertising spend is the proverbial proof in the pudding.
Extract of infographic from Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising Survey, Q3 2011. Source: NielsenWire.
Extract of infographic from Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising Survey, Q3 2011. Source: NielsenWire.
click to enlarge
Chats I had with bloggers and perceived influencers in this trusted authentic amplification of brands and products revealed some interesting nuggets. At the top of those were a) how we've bastardised "friend" and b) that our inner circle of close friends seems to constantly fall. Brands can now reach out to us more effectively through the people closest to us, where a friend on a social media platform is less trusted than people in our inner circle.

Brand ambassadors in the connection economy

Many brands have woken up to the ever-increasing growth of the connection economy, and with it they still engage celebrities, some of whom are known to be paid for brand recommendations. This takes away from the significant trust that consumers buy into when making purchases. For brands, it still seems numbers reached equate to success, whereas consumers trust authenticity and listen to product-category influencers.

In the Long Tail, Chris Anderson talks about 1000 True Fans, which defines a 'True Fan' as "someone who will purchase anything and everything you produce".

Source: KK.org.
Source: KK.org.
click to enlarge
Based on the theory of 1000 True Fans, the numbers become less significant and the people who influence the influencers increase in significance. It becomes all about selecting brand evangelists who care, as opposed to chasing a higher following where the level of trust is minimal.

Product category influencers

Some of the influencers I spoke to read and write their own blogs; they also look to other blogs when searching for products and brands to buy. It is also evident that, because we are surrounded by people whose interests are similar to ours, in our chosen industries they are more likely to use the same products as us.

For instance, people in the creative industry are more likely to use an iPhone than a Blackberry and more inclined to use an Apple than a PC. I wouldn't take fashion advice from a Tweet sent by my good friend who is a software engineer, and means well with his recommendation of a Darth Vader robe for a wedding.

Brand amplification and balance

A client asked what I think is an important question about selecting influencers and generating brand amplification: "How do you keep from crossing the line between generating speak and spamming your would-be fans?"

The connection economy makes it such that those 1000 True Fans also have followers who are easier to reach through their chosen platforms.

Instead of selecting a few people to consistently spam their followers, thereby potentially tarnishing your reputation, consider looking for more influencers within the topic of your product category. With our inner circles getting even smaller, we trust fewer and fewer people, which makes it easier to reach consumers.
    
 

About Mongezi Mtati

Mongezi Mtati (@Mongezi) is the founding MD of WordStart (www.wordstart.co.za). Apart from being a kite-boarding and sandboarding adventurer, Mongezi connects companies and brands with measurable word-of-mouth through young African influencers at WordStart. For the latest trends in word-of-mouth follow @wordstarters on Twitter. Mongezi's blog is available at www.mongezimtati.co.za. Contact him at .
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