January 14, 2011

Survey reveals that Social Networks play a limited role in the customer's decision making process in Holland

I came across a very interesting study just conducted by Fleishman-Hillard on December 2010 titled “The Digital Influence Index Study: ‘Understanding the Role of the Internet in the Lives of Consumers in the Netherlands”. The conclusions of the study:

1: The Internet is by far the most influential medium for Dutch consumers. Influence is defined as a combination of the time consumers spend on a medium and the relative importance they attach to it in their daily lives.
2: The internet is used mainly as a means to research decisions and to find supporting evidence for the decisions made. Search engines are key in the decision making process while social networks are, as of yet, hardly used. In particular when it comes to making decisions regarding durable goods and services, the Internet is viewed as the most important information source.
3: A particular remarkable conclusion is the marginal role social networks apparently play in decision making processes. The strength of social networks seems to be in emotional brand bonding rather than giving clear advice aimed at purchase decisions.
4: In general, the Dutch trust the information available on the Internet, in particular information provided by the government. The extensive amount of information available online makes it easier to learn quickly and makes it possible to make well-balanced decisions.
5: When seeking advice from others, the Dutch place a high value on the advice of friends, family and colleagues. Remarkably the majority of the respondents state that they only partly trust advice from strangers while conceding that the usefulness thereof is most likely high. The trustworthiness of content produced by sponsored or paid bloggers is extremely low.
6: Dutch Consumers are very familiar with micro blogs such as Twitter. In general the opinion is that people share too much uninteresting personal information. Consumers are also very aware of the possible implications of sharing personal information which could potentially harm their career.
7: Companies who make use of micro blogs to listen and anticipate consumers interests are appreciated more than those that don’t. Having a company keep their own micro blog is seen as less relevant. (Source: Fleishman-Hillard)

From all these findings nr 3 is particularly interesting. Social Networks play a marginal role in decision making processes. Attention here because they talk about Social Networks and not about Social Media. Is there a difference between Social Media and Social Networks? Indeed a big one since Social Networks are only one of the (five according to me) Social Media types. Since there are four more other Social Media categories I can imagine that all these together play indeed an important role in this process. This is evident if we look to conclusion nr 1 in combination with nr 5. Advice from friends, family and colleagues can be verbal or provided through social networking; In this point the study does not make any distinction and probably consumers do not see the online conversation with friends and family as social networking. No one can be sure and more research is necessary in this point. Regarding the advice from strangers this is by all means provided online: in online communities, online forums and influential blogs. There is also a discrepancy here namely that while in general consumers say that they do not trust strangers they recognize that the usefulness of strangers advice is most likely high. This means to me that in the end the social media and the information provided online plays a critical role in the consumer’s decision making process today (see also conclusion 1). The study reveals also interesting facts on media consumption trends in Holland and several other countries, underlying the need for more serious research in this area. The study also confirms something I wrote some time ago warning about excessive euphoria regarding the Social Media phenomenon.