With nearly 70% of consumers gathering information online to influence their purchases, and nearly two-thirds engaging in social media daily, the word-of-mouth dynamic is shifting, and influencers of consumer product adoption are not who they used to be. Social media crowdsourcing has changed this dynamic; where once we had passionate mavens and social influencers pushing their preferred products forward, now we have the power of the online collective voice.
Marketers have long used algorithms ranging from simple to complex in order to identify those target consumers who have the greatest power and influence in their social circles when it comes to spreading the word about new products. Oftentimes, these identifying phrases are along the lines of “I am the type of person who loves to try new things,” “If I find a new product I like, I can’t wait to tell others,” or “My friends and family usually come to me for advice on what to buy.”
With crowdsourcing, these personality traits don’t apply in the same way. Sure, those consumers are still out there influencing people, but the weight that they carry has been diminished. The sheer number of suggestions from social media contacts, and product reviews and ratings are replacing the recommendation of that one friend you used to turn to. People who are introverts, extremely busy, and passively unengaged come forward and participate. When asked, they share, and collectively, they influence what thousands of people are buying.
Crowdsourcing in action
I posted a question to a mom group on Facebook to ask about recommended sunscreen options for kids. I was looking specifically for products that were more natural, yet still easy-to-apply. I received my first product recommendation less than a minute after I posted, and within thirty minutes, I had a list of several products that had been endorsed by multiple moms, including links to independent product review sites. How helpful! Now, these helpful moms may never have qualified as a “social influencer” under previously held definitions, yet, that’s exactly who they are today. They certainly influenced my purchase (I jumped onto Amazon and ordered two of the products right away). But they didn’t just influence me, hundreds if not thousands of other moms are reading these posts and seeing these products endorsements (and just in time for summer!).
Increasing numbers of consumers are heading online to seek product information, and not just from retailer websites or independent product review sites. Crowdsourcing on social media sites is rapidly expanding, and it’s not just for large investment purchases. Among those consumers who seek opinions from others before purchasing, nearly 60% are turning to their social media networks for input. Consumers are seeking validation before buying just about anything, and they have access at their fingertips to people around the world who have experience with the very products they’re considering.
So what does this mean for marketers?
It means getting the product “right” before the first product hits the shelf is more important than ever.
The influencers are not who marketers have traditionally looked for. They’re not necessarily category mavens or extroverts with a passion for innovation. They are your neighbor across the street, the buddy you met while studying abroad, your friend’s mom – they’re everyone you sort of know.
The target has changed, and it’s important to accept the role that fringe networks and even complete strangers are playing in consumer purchase decisions. There is no doubt that social media engagement is going to continue to play a huge role in influencing product demand, so the question centers around how marketers can make this work for them. Rather than targeting certain types of individuals to drive brand growth, focus on truly understanding what consumers are seeking, and create products that meet and exceed those demands.
With a wealth of product performance information so readily available to consumers, product testing research is more important than ever. If your product doesn’t deliver, that will become known very quickly, and by people who haven’t even tried it yet. Gone are the days when a compelling ad and a pretty package can get the job done. Consumers are seeking products that meet their unique needs and desires, and they are eager to share what they love, and what they don’t, with anyone who will listen.
In an age where the masses have all of the power of influence, it’s more important than ever to spend the extra time and effort to create a real crowd pleaser.