Posted April 19, 2011 5:56 pm by with 14 comments

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Going online to research a product before you buy it is something nearly everyone does at least a few times a year. People look up everything online, especially high-tech items, clothing, cars, and even DVDs and CDs. And you can bet that what they read online is influencing which item they buy and who they buy it from.

But where do people look for information? Lightspeed Research has the answer.

As you can see, social networking lands at the bottom of the list, which doesn’t bode well for all those brand “likes” on Facebook.

Naor Chazan, Marketing Director, Americas at Lightspeed Research says,

“Despite their role in our digital lives, social networks don’t yet seem to be the place where Word of Mouth is delivering its full power.”

I respectfully disagree. The problem here is not in the results but in the question. It’s totally true that people don’t go to social media to research a product, because it’s not made for that. Social media is not easily searchable and the information is delivered so randomly it wouldn’t make sense to start there if you wanted to know about the benefits of a new Ford.

On the other hand, if I’m on Facebook and I see that a friend is excited about a new book, I’m going to go find that book on Amazon and I might buy it. In effect, I have been influenced by a review on social media. The reverse is also true. If my friend has a negative experience with an airline, I’ll think twice about booking a flight with them in the near future.

I’m not knocking Lightspeed’s research. Their paper is loaded with excellent information in regard to consumer shopping behavior and I recommend you read it when you’re through here. I just think we need to be careful about viewing social media as the be-all solution for marketers.

When I cook, I use a variety of tools to get the job done quickly and properly. Same goes for marketing. Social media may be your favorite tool, but it’s not always the best one for the job.

  • Agree. There’s a big difference between looking for product reviews and running into or hearing about products, or reading referrals from your friends or network of contacts. Both have influence but this data and chart only addresses one type and is only one part of the total equation.

    • Totally agree, Lisa. “where do you look for product reviews” is much different than “word of mouth”. Brand awareness in general is much harder to put a number on and illustrate through info-graphs.

      Spot on, Cynthia… it’s all about the correct balance!

  • Before buying stuff, it’s always better to get reviews. The information we get from others will become useful before we make our decision for purchasing. It is better to get reviews from people we don’t know because they will tell the truth just as long as they are not sales people for a certain brand.

  • Partial Agree on this. While it’s possible that people learn about products and services via social networks, we need to have data on this to know whether it is really happening.

    I have a blog and do product reviews and recommendations. These get posted automatically to my facebook and twitter accounts. I’m a data point that says product recommendations DO happen on social networks. However, I can’t recall anyone else in my network doing the same. The data above that suggests low use of social networks as a source for product recommendations resonates with my overall experience as a social network user. But how representative am I? I don’t know.

  • Some great points worth reflecting on. You are right. Social media is a support to the overall online business strategy of a company. But any company shouldn’t rely entirely upon Social Media for their online promotional efforts. The main thing is to align Social Media efforts with other tools to make it more effective.

  • Regardless of where people turn to reviews, you never know which one is going to be the one that pushes them to action. Search engines are going to provide me with hundreds of reviews about a product. But social networking sites might give me the opinion of someone I know and trust. Which touch point is more important? I don’t think people intentionally search for reviews on social networking sites, but if someone I know raves about the new restaurant in town, I might be convinced to check it out.

    • Exactly! I don’t seek out reviews on Twitter or Facebook but if someone I follow on social media raves about a product or has a horror story about a service – I absolutely remember.

  • I agree with you Cynthia. No tweet will ever hold a worthwhile review. Facebook lacks any effective means of browsing through strangers’ profiles for a product review.

    From this perspective, positive word of mouth can help in limited ways. Encouraging reviews on your site also can provide a one-shop stop for reviews & purchase. On page reviews may even stick a warm spike in the SEO’s veins.

    One can also play it in reverse if the business engages the social media angle. Example: “Check out this awesome review of (Product) from @ValuedCustomer1138 at” followed by a link to the product and all associated reviews. I see it enough from enough genuinely successful retailers.

    I really enjoy thinking about those social media links to reviews. The sites who do that are probably nurturing brand zealots, increasing their own word of mouth advertising with a combination of sincerity and authority, plus providing unique content all at once.

    Maybe the different techniques can exist in harmony. I very much appreciate a cohesive big picture approach over blind fundamentalism.

  • I agree. It seems every week I read a blog post or news article that is negative about the value of social media. Like the statistic cited above, these mainly reflect lack of understanding on the part of the person posing the question. Also, we can’t forget that many firms using social media lack understanding of how to use it effectively — using it as another PR outlet or for spammy self-promotion. When these efforts fail results blame the tool rather than the user.

    • Cynthia Boris


      This is very true. There’s no question that we’re still finding our way around social media, which is why I wanted to be clear that I wasn’t knocking Facebook as a good source of ‘word of mouth’ promotion. But the lack of an in depth search engine makes it tough to use it to pinpoint specific products or brands.

  • I always start with a search to see what comes up in the search results. I prefer to trust a blog post someone wrote about a specific product before a product review site.

  • Remember the premise of the article is about “products.” Services are different all together and local services are different still. So for a car or TV, yep, is the place to go. For a dentist, contractor or auto repair, I think there is growing traction in social media.

  • Hi Cynthia,

    I quoted this post in a post of my own on the report, and I just wanted to leave you the link. Excellent insight. Thanks for writing this.


    There are some Sites online which list Products depending on their social media relevance. A new german page is