Mass Media To Social Media: Harnessing Value From Trusted Relationships

By Indra Singhal   |   Wednesday, 11 Dec 2013, 17:35 IST

We have all been in situations where a visiting family member has a dental emergency; a panic stricken teenage daughter’s car begins making ominous clanking noises, a dear friend is suffering from acute back pain... and so on. At one time, dealing with such situations meant searching for just any provider who was available by looking through the fat Yellow Pages book. We then evolved to searching on AltaVista, which was replaced by Google. Most of us continue to “Google”- taking the leap of faith with hopes of receiving good service. In the absence of a solution, we are all content to repeat the process the next time service is needed in the future; the goodwill created with each service transaction is repeatedly lost.

Public review sites like Yelp and Angie’s List gather crowd sourced reviews and deliver individual and aggregated opinions of businesses. The assumption here is that the aggregate of individual subjective opinions will adequately predict the quality of service expected from the business. And for quite a while, all went well, until that first unreasonable irate customer decided to write a scathing one-star 'review' to inflict harm to the business.

To counter the ill effects of such vindictive one-star reviews, businesses have a strong incentive to solicit fraudulent five-star reviews. And that brings us to where we are today. Crowds can be influenced and mass opinion can be manipulated, and therefore, the aggregate of mass opinion is no longer an accurate predictor of expected service levels. The full spectrum consists of good businesses victimized by vindictive customers on one end and poor quality unscrupulous businesses loading up on fraudulent five-star reviews on the other.

In January 2012, at the DLD (Digital Life Design) conference in Munich, during her keynote address, Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, identified three Internet technology trends. First, the trend away from anonymity to authentic identity, second, a shift from the wisdom of crowds to the wisdom of friends, and finally the evolution of the masses from being receivers of information to being broadcasters. Since Sheryl spoke of them last year, these trends have continued to evolve and have manifested in a more personalized and social web, and whenever possible also helped in building relationships.

Anonymity Erodes Trust
In May 2012, Google stopped allowing anonymous reviews in Google Places and extended it to the Android Play store in November. The trend on all major social media platforms is to restrict new content to that sourced by real people. In particular, opinions or reviews tied to businesses and products can no longer be anonymous. While the trend is seen as an improvement, there are unintended victims: a whistleblower reporting genuine malpractice no longer has a safe forum and businesses providing intimate services cannot benefit from their loyal happy customers because they wish to remain private - are just two examples.

While an opinion connected to a name brings a semblance of authenticity, and is an improvement, an unknown person’s name does not go far enough to restore credibility in the written word. The named author of an opinion still retains much of the anonymity because the reader does not have any way to distinguish a named author from someone anonymous. Therefore, for all practical purposes, trust in the written opinion from anonymous or unknown named authors will remain elusive.

Relationships - the Key to Restoring Trust
The visitor with a dental emergency gets referred to a friend’s dentist; teenage daughter confidently drives over to a neighbor’s brother who is a mechanic, and the family’s chiropractor stays opens late to take in a long-time customer’s friend in pain. These matchups happen today, but it is not the norm, and do not happen often enough. Newly seeded trust relationships between customers and their service providers has no platform, let alone one fertile enough to capture and nurture these relationships.

In the Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising survey Q3 2011, 92 percent of respondents said they would trust a referral from any person they already knew, higher than any crowd sourced review site or search result. When the written word expressing an opinion is tied to a known person, in context, credibility and trust are intrinsic and inherent. The challenge is getting family and friends to capture their trusted relationships and to make their recommendations searchable by their circles of friends and by friends once removed.

Next generation social solutions must take authenticated identity to the next level by complementing existing social graphs with augmented intelligence capable of delivering a return on trusted relationships.

About Author

Indra Singhal
Founder & CEO

Flyplist is a social recommendation engine that lets people find trusted services, shopping and dining through their family and friends. Flyplist business marketing solutions enable small and tiny businesses monetize word-of-mouth through their existing customers who trust and love them.