AnalogFolk: The wisdom of friends

Savvy companies are now less interested in Facebook 'likes' and are seeking brand advocates.

Twelve months ago in these very pages, we introduced the Social Experience Economy. We argued that, in order to thrive, brands would need to stage compelling experiences that are connected to a new ecosystem, powered and made semantically relevant by social technologies. It was also 12 months ago that Facebook launched the now ubiquitous, yet much maligned and often misunderstood, "like" button.

Since that day, brands have enjoyed a honeymoon period, in which they have fallen over themselves to recruit as many Facebook "likes" as they can, with consumers happy to play along with their personal data. There has also been plenty of technical creativity from agencies (ourselves included) to earn "likes" through tactics such as "like-gating" - asking for "likes" in order to give access to exclusive content or promotions.

However, before we all get too caught up in the excitement, let's pause and remind ourselves that Facebook "likes" are simply a forced public display of an opt-in to a brand's social news stream. This is important, as some marketers have made the leap to suggest that such behaviour is brand advocacy - which, of course, it isn't.

Advocacy goes beyond an affinity with a brand and can be extremely effective at influencing other people's behaviour, when it can be activated. According to the Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey, 90 per cent of people said they trust word-of-mouth recommendations from people they know, while 70 per cent said they trust other consumer opinions posted online. So, the next social challenge is how to turn these connected brand fans into advocates that influence the behaviour of their wider networks.

As social technology breaks down the traditional "top-down" model of influence, people are beginning to be influenced by a blend of the wisdom of experts, the wisdom of crowds and the wisdom of friends. For subjective decision-making, relating to tastes and preferences, the wisdom of friends will always be more relevant. The question is how do you better use social technologies to stitch together the wisdom of friends and increase the flow of advocacy for your brand?

Fast-forward 12 months from "like", and there are some new buttons being rolled out by Facebook and Google to encourage a much more direct personal advocacy of pages and content.

First up, Facebook introduced a "recommend" button, broadcasting to a person's newsfeed but with a personalised message. More recently, it launched a "send" button, which allows users to privately share, marking a significant move towards peer-to-peer advocacy rather than the previous peer-to-all announcements. By clicking "send" on participating websites, users can send information to an individual, a group or even non-Facebook users via e-mail. What's more, these "send" notifications are targeted, personalised and appear in a recipient's "messages", rather than just their newsfeeds.

This is good news, as it has been estimated people only ever see between 5 and 15 per cent of all posts that pass through their newsfeeds.

We see "like" as an action of self-expression: "I like this and I want the world to know." We see "recommend" as a form of advocacy, but without targeting: "I'd recommend this, and I want the world to know." "Send" is targeted advocacy: "This is something I think will be of specific interest to you."

Also, there is no need to panic about your total "likes"' suffering as result of your fans hitting "send" instead, as the "like" total is now calculated by adding the number of "likes", "sends", "shares", "comments" and inbox messages containing said URL.

The other most recent and landmark addition is from Google. The search giant is looking to tap into the wisdom of friends, with the introduction of the "+1" button. This is designed to publicly give something your stamp of approval. It also sits alongside search results, which means that your personal recommendation is targeted at your friends, when they are specifically searching for it. To begin with, Google "+1" buttons will only be available in Google search results, but the intention is to make this social technology available to embed in all sites soon.

The intention of the Google "+1" is good, but it does raise some important questions. Will this data help to further refine Google's organic search results? One of the key assets that propelled Google to become the number one search engine was its ability to rank websites based upon their value, not their marketing budget. So those sites with "content", "optimised" pages and inbound links triumph.

With social media changing the landscape of search, will we see companies rising to the top of the search engine results through sheer popularity, exposure and reach? It's possible that search engine optimisation, as we know it today, will be gone. Search results could be weighted more by social interaction, such as "+1s", "likes" or Tweets. This could point toward heavier investment in social media, encouraging customers to "send" your websites and media to their friends. It's an evolution of linking, but much harder to achieve when you don't have tens of thousands of fans to leverage.

All these new buttons suggest we are beginning to move out of our honeymoon period in the Social Experience Economy, where consumers' "likes" and "follows" have been easy to come by. We are now moving into a period in which the wisdom of friends will become more targeted and powerful, yet savvy consumers will expect us to work harder to earn their engagement and advocacy.

As social technology continues to power the wisdom of friends, there is greater emphasis on brands and agencies to build strategies, journeys and experiences that are not just "liked", but convert fans into genuine advocates. Those brands that get it right by creating more meaningful and valuable interactions with people will thrive in the Social Experience Economy.


New social technologies are shifting models of influence from the wisdom of crowds to 'the wisdom of friends'.

Consumers will not be as free and easy with their social opt-ins and personal data as they have been up to now.

Agencies need to create strategies, journeys and experiences that aren't just 'liked', but that lead to genuine advocacy.

Matt Dyke is the strategy director and Kevin Sutherland is the creative technology director of AnalogFolk

(From Campaign's "What Next in Digital" supplement, July 1 2011)