Andy Crestodina

Content, Trust, and the Power of Influence

By: Andy Crestodina | June 16, 2014 | 

Content, Trust, and the Power of InfluenceBy Andy Crestodina

I trust my friends. If they tell me something is good (or bad), I tend to believe them. The power of influence is very, very powerful.

Reviews, word-of-mouth, and social media content are all sources of information that affect buying decisions. Businesses also use content to attempt to sway decisions. But some content is more powerful than others.

Let’s take a look at some research that shows what we’re paying attention to, what we trust, who we trust, and how much it all matters.

Consumers Pay More Attention to Reviews

The weight we place on reviews in growing, not shrinking. There also is a sweet spot (between two and six) of reviews to be read before a person makes a buying decision.

In fact, 79 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

As well, in this weird world we live in where people build relationships with one another behind computer screens, we become friends, and then we trust their recommendations as much as someone we know in real life. That’s the real power of influence.

Buyers Smell Marketing a Mile Away

In a new study of buiness-to-business buyers conducted by CMO and NetLine, shows just how big the trust gap is between corporate content and peer recommendations.

Nearly half – 47 percent – of respondents said professional associations, online communities, and industry organizations are the most valuable sources of data when making buying decisions.

Compare that to corporate content. Only nine percent said they trust white papers.

According to Donovan Neale-May, director of the CMO Council, businesses that produce content have a problem.

Their content [tends to be] overly technical, product-centric, and self-serving

I trust my friends, but companies …not as much. When a business publishes blatantly self-promotional content, it’s obvious. And it’s a turn-off.

The Power of Influence

Reviews and social media content matters. But how much?

A new study from the Medill IMC Spiegel Institute measures the effect of negative word-of-mouth (NWOM) on buying behavior.

They studied a brand in the airline industry, which is a good place to find and measure the effectiveness of social content.

Not surprisingly, they found a nasty-gram posted in a social stream really does affect the buying behavior of those who see it.

The researchers explain:

Viewing NWOM had a negative effect on future purchases. Point accumulations, our proxy for purchase behavior, decreased by 12 percent and purchase frequency by five percent. NWOM viewers seem to absorb and internalize the online negativity and it affects their purchase behavior.

These posts do affect the behavior of people who read them, but not necessarily the behavior of those who complained.

Surprisingly, the person who posted the negative message is actually likely to spend more with that brand.

Point accumulation among negative posters increased by 41 percent. Purchase frequency increased by 108 percent. We believe this could either be a “venting” effect, posters get their anger off their chests or a “guilt” effect… because they know that their NWOM could negatively affect the company.

I guess social media is a good place to get things off your chest. Post, forgive, and forget.

Consider the Source

We are increasingly affected by feedback from other buyers. It makes sense. We trust people who aren’t selling to us.

As business marketers, we need to make sure we’re focused not just on content creation, but the things that affect the buying decision.

Do we:

  • Provide great service…and seek great reviews when possible?
  • Listen to the conversations in our industry?
  • Create a presence on the social networks where buyers are sharing information?
  • Build positive relationships with influencers…and work with them if they have a negative experience?
  • Work within a culture that allows us to respond to criticism before it reaches the social networks?
  • Reward feedback, apply best practices, and take criticism into the process?

The power of influence is far greater than just one person being unhappy. How will you prevent that from happening to your organization?

Note from Gini: I’m taking today and tomorrow off and Andy graciously offered to write in my stead. Thanks, Andy!

About Andy Crestodina

Andy Crestodina is co-founder and strategic director of Orbit Media, a web design company in Chicago, and the author of Content Chemistry: An Illustrated Handbook for Content Marketing. You can find Andy Thursdays after work drinking a Milk Stout at the Long Room on Irving Park and Ashland.

  • The reviews thing is interesting. I tend not to rely on them except in one area – travel. Anywhere we go, we check hotel reviews (especially user-posted photos) and reviews of local restaurants. Here at home, we never check reviews.

    I also agree with the director of the CMO Council’s statement on content. It’s not that the content is bad or poorly written, it is that so much of it is just not written for the audience or is delivered to the wrong audience.

  • crestodina

    ClayMorgan I think reviews are even more important than this study suggests. It’s not just about trust, but it’s about discovery. Here’s an example:

    I listen to audio books and I usually browse by picking a category and then sorting my average rating. There may be 1000 books in “historic fiction” but I probably never see more than the top 50 based on reviews. 
    Apps are an even better example. I’m unlikely to even read the description of an app with poor reviews. Also, notice how you browse for movies. Those little stars are very prominent, aren’t they? Sometimes I think they’re too prominent!

    Reviews are about trust of course, but also visibility. I’d love to see someone measure this…

    I’m with you on travel reviews, Clay. I would never go anywhere without carefully reading and considering the reviews!

  • ClayMorgan That’s interesting. I use reviews at home, too. Pretty much all the time – when I’m looking for a good app (if it wasn’t already recommended to me). Restaurants. Home purchases.

  • What surprises me most about the research is how the behavior of those who complained is not necessarily affected and that they actually spend more with the brand. Personally,  if I took the time to complain in NWOM fashion I can’t imagine that I would continue to purchase or support the organization, especially in the hospitality or service industries (restaurants, hotels etc.) 

    I do however understand the rationale for a product complaint especially if my complaint was heard by the company and resolved. For instance if I had a poor experience with a lawnmower purchase from Home Depot I would not stop shopping there for other products. In the end I find that I am more forgiving on a product issue than I am on a service issue.

  • crestodina ClayMorgan I’m a *huge* review reader. I take some with a grain of salt, but definitely use it as a huge part of my buying decision making process.

  • makeaner Mary Anne, seems to prove the research data point that negative reviews don’t necessarily deter the spending on the brands. Funny (odd) isn’t it?

  • Eleanor Pierce ClayMorgan Something interesting I’ve noticed in myself and others about reviews is that we use them in two distinctly different ways. One is to confirm if something is worthwhile – this is usually for restaurants and smaller purchases. But the other is to quickly get the lay of the land for deeper relationships, such as w/vendor choices at work. For those, the first look at reviews is rarely the last action before purchase, instead it’s to understand “what do people think of this brand/organization?” … And that’s not necessarily to get details on a product, a lot of that is checking code and tone to find out who we are dealing with if we decide to do business. I think that really hammers home Andy’s point about trust and influence.

  • ClayMorgan I disagree – I think the content is often bad and poorly written (although maybe we are making the same point in different ways). It’s one of the reasons I think a lot about the importance of having an editorial perspective and beats – there was a pretty interesting article about that recently, criticizing NYT’s innovation report…
    To me, bad content is the single biggest problem marketers face b/c it doesn’t matter how good you are at distribution. If you don’t tell compelling stories in a way that matters to the buyers you want to reach, you will cannibalize over time any audience you manage to reach.

  • The funniest part of that chart is in 2011 5% of people needed 50+ reviews…and by 2013 we capped things at 40. I actually think today we start with the combined star rating. And the Amazon Vine program where they have professional reviewers reviewing products because they found that a product with negative reviews sold better than a product with no reviews at all. 

    I think at the end you kind of hit the things I try to beat into everyone who will listen. Three simple things. Focus on the best product/service you can deliver. Give great customer service. Charge profitably and accordingly. Those are the three main complaints….product didn’t meet expectations or for the perceived value/cost or the service sucked. How can they say bad stuff on social media or negative reviews if they have nothing to write about?

    Barring that in a pinch buy some Vienna Beef Hotdogs and some Ketchup! 😉

  • It’s interesting. We’re looking to get some work done on a new home and good friends of ours highly recommended a contractor. I thought we’d just go with him and my wife thought I was crazy. Why make this decision based on one anecdote? So we went on Angie’s List to see who was recommended there. So someone with 150 reviews and an A rating trumps a random recommendation from a friend.

  • photo chris

    RobBiesenbach Hi Rob!  you’re not crazy! Whenever I have a personal recommendation from a friend I almost always stop looking. This is a good reminder that I should continue on in diligent research!

  • photo chris

    annelizhannan I think there are two answers to that.

    1. If a brand plays nice online, once people complain there, they can get taken care of. They get personal attention they may not have gotten in the first place. or they get something extra: discount, free meal, free desert. In short, they are rewarded for posting their negative experience online and it soothes them. 

    2. To go online now to post a negative view is now no different, and often takes LESS effort,  than calling your best friend and ranting about an experience. I think some people just go with their emotions of the moment, and then they’re over it. sadly, those who read their reviews may not be.

  • photo chris Yeah, it’s weird to think of a world where a friend’s recommendation may mean less than that of total strangers!

  • Ann07

    Content, trust and influence – I think these three agree in one and that’s marketing. Well, this is just my opinion. You barely need content to do marketing, trust is indeed needed to build your foundation, and influence would be a way for you to connect with your possible audience. 

    With regards to the concept you’ve shared, I must agree with you. This article does also show that content, trust, and influence is related to each other. 

    As what I’ve learned here, content is what you are paying attention to, and once you trust them, you’re already influenced by them. 

    Thanks for the post! I’ve indeed had a good read. 🙂


    By the way, I found this post shared on

  • webby2001

    I don’t love the “how many reviews do you read before forming an opinion about a business” question, to be honest. And I have seen corroborating data on the tidbit about negative posters actually spending MORE with the brand they complain about–it’s not as counter-intuitive as one might think. I know there has been quite a bit recently on the importance of reviews, and I’m not denying that they play an important role, but I would point out three things:
    First, we are consulting more sources prior to purchase today than ever before (Google’s ZMOT has that figure doubling from 2011 to 2012) for one fairly simple reason–because we can. There’s more information out there. Reviews, however, are often consulted quite late in the process, and frequently serve as tie-breakers for purchases we are on the fence about.

    Second, the importance of and reliance upon reviews varies *wildly* according to the type of purchase decision. There’s probably a sweet spot in terms of purchase risk here. If I’m looking for a hotel in Antigua, you betcha I’m going to spend some time on TripAdvisor–what else have I got? I might read 10 user reviews for a moderate-risk purchase. But I might only consult a couple of “professional” reviews for a new car, because I don’t necessarily trust my friends as auto reviewers. The importance of reviews can vary wildly within the *same* category as well–spend some time studying how families choose colleges and you’ll go blind. There are segments within segments.

    Finally, and this is my main point, this entire article assumes that consumers are rational actors–we seek information, weigh it, and make a decision based upon the facts. We do not. Beats headphones are roundly panned by audio reviewers. We buy them anyway. We seek out positive reviews, ignoring or just plain not seeing the negative ones, because our reticular activating system blinds us to what we do not wish to see–information that would argue against a purchase we have already decided to make, and are seeking some final pre-purchase “rationalization” for. 
    There are plenty of negative reviews out there for hotels and restaurants that you can’t get rooms or tables at. I’m not saying reviews are unimportant–but saying that we *think* they are important and that we read a lot of them is not the same thing as saying that they are *more* influential or growing in importance, despite their growing in number. I am sure there is some spectrum here that factors in risk of purchase and strength of brand–the weaker the brand, the more important reviews and “trust” are. 

  • webby2001 Great blog post Tom.
    I agree re: rational actors… I think it’s complicated depending on whether a product or service demands a long term relationship (crucial for B2B folks) and there is also a generational shift at play. Some research suggests Millennials favor/trust UGC and reviews over most other content. I don’t think this is simply because we want to know the product/service is good, it’s intimately tied to that moment of “who am I dealing with / what is this person about?” That judgment happens all the time and is made so much quicker than it used to be courtesy of the web (social proof at work), and I think it’s fair to say it’s a difficult judgement to make just by looking at what a brand puts out there.

  • RobBiesenbach photo chris I’m a believer that given how good the human brain is at processing tone / sentiment / meaning if you get 20 at least decently written reviews about a product/service/business you can pretty much figure out what’s going on.

  • megtripp

    I think the whole review/critique/rating process is incredibly complex, and that much of the data around it doesn’t get to the essential truth that there are a million different factors that go into how much credence I’ll give a review. For example:
    What site are the reviews on (since different platforms attract different people with different interests — say, for food: Chowhound vs. Yelp vs. Open Table, etc)?
    What is the age of the reviewer, and how might that shape their expectations?
    Is the review under a name or a username?
    What else have they reviewed — and what were those reviews like?
    What were the data points in the review? How were they articulated? How did the reviewer respond to the treatment they were given?
    How old is the review? Could things have changed in the meantime?
    If the company attempted to resolve an issue, was the person willing?
    … and so on.
    Sure, I might not do this for every restaurant I look up on Yelp (then I disregard the highest and lowest scores, and see what the middle says), but if I’m going to make a major purchase or spend a significant amount of time somewhere, I’m going to look at reviews… and then assess what lies behind those reviews.
    I also tend not to care much about “influencer” campaigns, for better or for worse.
    The reviews I care about have three things in common:
    1. They are neither freakouts nor love-fests in any extreme way.
    2. They come from someone I trust with similar values / taste to me (I can love you, but we may not like the same stuff.)
    3. They offer details.
    4. They aren’t uttered with the goal of promoting another thing where a promotional relationship may exist.
    It’s not even a bit simple, huh?

  • There is a tribe thing here.
    Above the basic needs of Food, Fear and Fornication, we have two core needs…
    First is to belong.
    Second is to be as high in the group where we belong as possible.

    We buy many products to belong. Clothes, for example identify us as one of our tribe, whether it is Goths or pensioners with beige jackets. So we take advice from those already in the tribe we identify with – we don’t need beige jacket monthly to inform us.

    We also buy many products to impress. If our friends has a Galaxy 4 or an iPhone 4, we have to have the 5. We buy the car with the letters on the back – to us they read “I’m better than you”.

    So we will always take cues from our peers more than from vendors. It isn’t about logic – it is about both fitting in and standing out.

    This is also important in reviews. If a review uses phrases like “wicked, man” or Cool, bruv”, do you think it will be seen as a recommendation by the readers of beige jacket monthly? 
    I doubt it.

  • SavvyCopywriter

    “Buyers smell marketing a mile away” -> This is so true! I do it, you do it, our customers do it, and yet people continue to try to use sleazy marketing tactics. It’s a relief to see more and more realizing how ineffective these are and making the shift to more value based marketing. Great post, thanks for stepping in Andy!

  • SavvyCopywriter Couldn’t agree more. And the half my marketing is wasted has gone up to 90% as we all have to wade through a mess of unwanted and unheeded ads, popups, popovers and jingles.

  • crestodina

    SavvyCopywriter It’s so true, isn’t it? We all know it as consumers but somehow, when we put on our marketing hats, it’s easy to lose that empathy and create something that’s pushy, salesy and motivated by things other than true generosity.

    Thanks for the comment and for sharing, Kimberly!

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  • “Post, forgive, and forget.” Interesting point, Andy. A person’s negative review can have negative ramifications well beyond the point that the original poster has “gotten over it”.

    It’s amazing how many of these types of posts I’m reading now – as folks understand the power of social, and peer reviews, in the purchase decision. And yes, I’m a huge proponent of both social listening AND sentiment analysis…even when the sentiment analysis remains flawed.

  • crestodina

    dbvickery Thanks, Brian. Yes, the research on social media and influence is getting better lately. Did you see the research Facebook just did? They tinkered with the moods of 700,000 users, which wasn’t very nice. But they posted the research, which is interesting!
    It’s called “Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks” Fun title, right? Here’s the link…

    When I finish reading it, I might pitch Gini a follow up post to this one. In the mean time, if you come across any social influence research, let me know!

  • crestodina dbvickery That research reminds me: “when you don’t pay for the product…”

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