As I’ve worked the last 7 years in building metrics and tools to help companies understand the reasons why people do what they do, 3 facts have become evident:
1) Pretty much everyone is online
2) Online communities are reflective of or an enhancement to traditional social relationships
3) People I know are the best source of product recommendations
The digital trails consumer conversations leave online are a good approximation for the world at large. The latest pew Internet research report show online population reaching 79% of all Americans. Furthermore, rather than asking people questions about what they think, we can just observe what they say. We don’t have to ask people if they do or don’t do something we can observe them.
Online communities are as real and vibrant as any other and are built around long term relationships. Whether it’s a community like Facebook that looks like friendships I’ve developed throughout life or LinkedIn, the connections I’ve made in business, or on a forum like Rennlist, my boss’s favorite Porsche aficionado site, the community is strong and vibrant, with lots of on-going relationships that grow and fade with new people coming into ask questions from experts or lurkers that keep up with the community without contributing or the occasional visitor that just wants to see what the experts think. These communities are strong, vibrant and have their analogs in social situations in the offline world.
The impact of person to person recommendations is stronger than advertising or other methods of company sponsored communications, when you want to know what car to buy you ask a car nut, when you want to know how to get the best deals on frequent flyer miles you ask a friend with a passion for travel. Increasingly, though you’d find your friend saying “go look on flyertalk” there’s a thread for that (can I trademark “there’s a thread for that?”). I was recently browsing flyertalk to figure out international fares for a 2 year old ( I’ve never booked a child fare before and didn’t want to get screwed) while I was there I saw a new miles promo on United it had been posted and had hundreds of comments before it even reached my inbox from United later that day.
Given that people online are pretty much everyone, the communities represent real social relationships and people I know give the most trusted recommendations we should clearly expect to see that a social media metrics measuring peoples’ recommendations to each other would be reflected in sales.
We measure advocacy, which is the number of people recommending a brand above any others, and have seen strong relationships between the metric and sales in a number of categories. (I’ll post more in the future specific to the nuts and bolts of it)
Social media clearly has an impact on sales in this category and others. Many times the relationship will not be this clear or the category may be so complex that a single variable model cannot tease out the results or there could be errors in the metric (source spam/problems, bad language model, etc…) but if you believe in the 3 tenets, it’s not surprising and quite intuitive that there should be a link between a social media metric and sales.