Posted September 18, 2008 9:09 pm by with 11 comments

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A new report from Universal McCann, one of the world’s largest media service firms, looks at how Internet based commentary is an increasingly powerful force.

Blogs, Twitter, FriendFeed, Fecebook, and other forms of social media are not only shaping thoughts, they are also shapping where dollars are spent through reviews and product descriptions.

According to the report the growth in social media and consumer opinion online has leveled the playing field in sectors where expertise has traditionally been key to purchase decisions such as finance, the advice of total strangers is being increasingly trusted.

The report, When Did We Start Trusting Strangers? , is based on a survey of 17,000 Internet users in 29 countries and examines the growth of consumer recommendation and the tools that drive it across the globe.

The report calls this new social media an “Influence Economy”

It notes that many of the changes that are taking place are a carry over of old school word of mouth, only now in virtual format. As more people move into social media, they are utilizing the social platforms to communicate with friends, family, and peers. This makes the conversation going on today very similar to yesteryear, only now the projection is farther, and the signal is more powerful. In fact, 58% of those surveyed use Social Media to stay in contact with existing connections.

As the web offers more and more microformats that allow for reviews, personalization of web services, and user generated content, this change will continue.

A new generation of brands, including Crowdstorm, Kaboodle and Mypicklist, are likely to inspire a movement of sites that make consumer opinion even more important.

“The influence economy is all about truth and transparency. Brands that live up to their marketing promises and deliver quality products will benefit from consumer recommendation. Marketers need to engage with this new platform if they are to ensure their brands thrive in the era of influence,” says Tom Smith, Head of Consumer Futures, EMEA at Universal McCann.

Some interesting notes on markets found in the report include the fact that Asia and Brazil are leading the charge, with consumers in South Korea, Hong Kong, Philippines, India, Pakistan and China most ready to comment.

Of all of the verticals films, music and technology are the most commented on, but all have been impacted; around 40% of global Internet users have commented on property, financial products and utilities.

Males, 25-34-years-old, early adopting desk workers, are the new brand of super-influencers. They are using the tools of social media to shape opinions and purchasing patterns.

The report found that bloggers are also very active in terms of sharing opinions and recommendations; 32% have shared recommended websites, 29% their favourite music and 28% opinions on products and brands.

“Brands need to reach out to these creators as they will become the most powerful voices in the influence economy. The old media of expert commentators is being replaced by the consumer and anybody with an opinion and a computer can be part of it,” says Smith.

The report gives tips on how brands can navigate the influence economy:

Invest in exceptional product: Ultimately in a world driven by consumer opinion the main thing that matters is an exceptional product and service. Bad service will lead to bad brand in the influence economy.

Listen to the buzz: Use the tools of social media to see what people are saying about your brand and the latest trends – track blogs, Twitter and social networks.

Be transparent: Use the tools of social media to adopt a position of transparency. Give the staff a voice through blogs and create content to share in social media. Often companies and brands have some of the most interesting stories to tell.

Utilise social media as an advertising channel: Make your brand active in social networks, go to the places that consumers are and be part of the conversation.

Be more accessible: As consumers adopt an ever greater number of digital channels to communicate, so should products, services and brands. Make your communications and service across online, mobile and traditional outlets and media.