Social Risk: Why Word of Mouth Doesn’t Work in Social Media and more...

Social Risk: Why Word of Mouth Doesn’t Work in Social Media


An interesting study, “Why recommend a brand face-to-face but not on Facebook?” has just been published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, looking at differences between word of mouth recommendations in social media and in person.

Bottom line, people are far less likely to recommend brands to each other in social media because of the perceived ‘social risk’ social media recommendations entail (‘social risk’ = risk to your public image and reputation if your recommendation sucks).  People don’t recommend (often) on Facebook because Facebook recommendations are public, written and broadcast (in contrast to the private, oral, and personalised one-to-one recommendations of traditional word of mouth).

When you think about it, it makes perfect sense – you might make a private personal recommendation to a friend, depending on their particular needs, but would you make a blanket public recommendation to everyone you know, without knowing their needs?

The implications for digital (and traditional) marketing are key

1) Digital (and traditional) marketing should get back to focusing on stimulating traditional word of mouth (via content that gives people the reasons and language to recommend) – private one-t0-one recommendations

2) Digital (and traditional) marketing should focus on stimulating professional and expert recommendations and reviews, rather than peer to peer recommendations.  Professional reviewers and experts are paid to make recommendations – the social risk is part of their job.

The study also helps explain why  ‘would you recommend?’ is a better predictor of profitable growth for brands than ‘do you recommend’; actually recommending is contingent on situations were social risk is low; where you can make private, one-to-one personalised recommendation – with caveats as needed.

It’s not all bad news for brands looking to drive online consumer word of mouth; the study did find that one type of person – those with a high need for ‘social enhancement’ (need to be seen positively by others, social approval seekers) were more likely to broadcast recommendations in social media.  But are people who agree strongly with the statement – “In general, I like to hear that I am a great person” really your best word of mouth advocates?






CRESS: The Psychology of First (Brand) Impressions


First impressions matter – so what if you’re about to launch a new brand or product – how do you create that all-important first impression?

Well, the short answer from the psychology of first impressions is to trigger positive stereotypical associations.

Our ‘gut’ reaction to something or someone new is based on explicit and implicit inferences we make from salient features they display - and these are built from stereotypes built up from personal and shared experience.  For example, when we meet people we’ll take salient features – such as a tattoo on a female – and make (often false) assumptions based on that feature – tattoos on women are associated with promiscuity.

Other research into the psychology of first impressions has been summarised today by the BPS British Psychological Society, including

  • We associate eye-contact (brief, not sustained) with intelligence and sincerity
  • We associate fast speaking with intelligence (and lots of ‘fillers; such as ‘like’, um, ah with incompetence)
  • We associate male baldness with dominance
  • We associate facial features associated with brown eyes in males with dominance
  • We associate luxury clothing with influence
  • We associate types of shoes with personality (visibly branded is associated with disagreeable personality)
  • We associate walking style with personality traits (loose, expansive gait as adventurous, slow relaxed style as calm)
  • We associate multiple body piercings with low intelligence (although body piercings on women are associated with creativity)

So it’s all about associations – and to use Nobel prize winner Danaiel Kahnemann’s key term achieving ‘associational coherence‘ with (positive) mental associations. So what does all this mean for creating first impressions with new brands, products and services?  First and foremost, appearances matter – you need to make sure the first point of contact – whether an ad or packaging trigger top positive associations in your category – and do so in a distinctive way.  Specifically;

  1. First, make sure you understand the top positive associations in your category, and then make sure you trigger them (use word association games with consumers to do this, and consider using the implicit association test)
  2. Second, focus on triggering those positive associations that will distinguish your product from the competition.  One powerful way to do this is to give your product a distinctive brand personality – there’s a lot of nonsense written about brand personality (mostly associated with brand pyramids, onions etc) but people do personify brands – and they tend to do so on five ‘CRESS’ dimensions – competence, ruggedness, excitement, sophistication, sincerity.*  Choose a distinctive dimension, for example sophistication, and then find category associations – around it, and then add them to your product, packaging and communication



* The CRESS model is the dominant evidence-based brand personality model, but it’s not the only option – another option is to use the ‘big five’ human personality dimensions  - OCEAN (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism) – based on the logic that people often choose brands based on their ‘display value’ – like a peacock tail – to publicly amplify a dominant or desired personality trait.



How to Help Consumers “Value Maximise” in Supermarkets (new app idea)


We all want the best quality bang for our buck – it’s what consumer psychologists call “value maximisation“.  Value maximisation is arguably the most important, and most central concept to understanding what guides consumer behaviour (without it, very little consumer behaviour makes any sense at all).  And digital helps consumers value maximise by providing more information and more choice.

So a new iOS/Android app in the Netherlands, spotted by one of Springwise’s trendspotters is allowing value-maximising consumers to value maximise in supermarkets.  The app offers real-time recipe suggestions from supermarket products that are currently on promotion in your local supermarket.  Simple and smart, the Koken met aanbiedingen app tracks promotions across supermarkets, and helps consumers maximise the value on offer from promotions.

Of course there’s more to value maximisation than price (value = benefit/cost), and brands can help consumers value maximise not through a race to the bottom on price, but by adding value to their value proposition (whether functional, psychological, or ‘display value’).  What caught our eye with this app is that it does both – it helps people save money and get more benefit from their purchases.  It plays on both dimensions of the value equation. Smart.

Is this another new case in the ‘attack of the aggregators’ where new digital intermediaries undermine slow-to-get-with-plan retailers (think hotels, travel priceline, by better offering information and choice? (See James’ Briscoe’s (Unique Digital) ‘Billion Dollar Marketing Lesson‘ to see the scary/exciting future we’re headed towards with this digital intermediation (not disintermediation).

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Top Innovations in Content Marketing [Presentation Download]


What do top fashion models – Gisele Bündchen, Candice Swanepoel, along with Naomi Watts and virtual icon Hatsune Miku have to do with content marketing?  Everything. Here’s a short deck for download that explains all What the ?#%& is Content Marketing?, put together for this summer’s Digital Innovation Day by SYZYGY group of digital agencies, covering latest innovations in content marketing…

Key points/examples

  • Although content marketing formats (se of publishing channels as opposed to advertising channels to achieve marketing objectives) include traditional email newsletters, website blogs, viral videos and promotional microsites, there are some exciting innovations emerging in content marketing formats
    • Shoppable E-zines (Net a Porter’s Porter magazine featuring Gisele Bündchen)
    • Shoppable videos (Candice Swanepoel for  Juicy Couture)
    • Self-publishing products (e.g. activity trackers that publish sharable data to personal dashboards – a personal favourite of Naomi Watts)
    • Augmented reality packaging (e.g. scan a product to see published information – reviews, product info etc…) – Domino’s Hatsune Miku
    • Real-time video (e.g. Red Bull ‘Stratos’ stunt)
    • Digital art (e.g. Debenhams department store working with artists)
    • Video explainers (e.g. L’Oreal makeup guides, haul videos)
    • Content-based apps (e.g. Michelin guide apps and e-books, Red Bull’s The Red Bulletin app)


Facebook’s Secret Experiment To Control Your Mood [Full Study Download]

Facebook Mind Virus

Have you just been an unknowing subject in a massive psychological experiment run by Facebook on mass mood-control? Facebook is feeling the heat after revealing that it enrolled 689,003 Facebook users into a covert psychological experiment using ‘emotional contagion ‘ to control people’s mood by manipulating what they see in their news feed (download full study here).

The idea of emotional contagion is simple – moods are ‘catching’, infectious just like colds, laughter, and yawning.  By manipulating which emotionally-charged posts you see on Facebook, Facebook could theoretically manipulate your mood.  The study, edited by psychologist Susan T. Fiske, an eminent expert in social cognition (how our thinking is are influenced and patterned by social stimuli – like other people’s emotional states), found that this theoretical influence – was in fact real.  Facebook can manipulate – to a small degree – your personal mood (measured by the mood of your posts) by manipulating the mood of the posts you see in your newsfeed.

Of course, there are a bunch of methodological caveats/issues to the study (importantly, the accuracy (or rather potential lack of it) of the computer algorithm that decides the mood of the post) and the vanishingly small size of the influence. But the results are consistent with decades of mass media effects research (and surely Facebook counts as mass media today), that show a small but persistent influence of mass media on mood and behaviour (my own research looked at the role of the media in copycat violence and deliberate self-harm). It’s also a central premise in ‘memetics’ – that media channels such as Facebook are vectors for memetic mind viruses.

But what seems to have caught the media’s interest with the study is the covert nature of Facebook’s psychological experiment.  Surely people have a right to known when they are being experimented upon?  Well, perhaps – but the moral outrage is a little disingenuous from media companies that systematically use A/B testing to optimise their ads – or indeed simply use Google analytics.  Every A/B test is effectively a psychological experiment, where subjects are placed into experimental groups – without their knowledge or consent – and exposed to one of two versions of an ad, and their reactions are measured – in order to optimise the ad.  The Facebook mood-control experiment was simply an A/B test using user posts as variables.

The old truism that if you are not paying for the product, you are the product – is all the more true for free online services that make money from your data and ads.

We are all ‘products’ – unpaid psychological subjects – in a massive ongoing experiment on mass mind control and behaviour control.  If Facebook can’t manipulate what we think, feel, say, do or buy, or who we vote for, then it has no business model.

This is not necessarily a bad – or good – thing, but to believe anything else is simply naive.




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