By now, we’ve all heard about Facebook’s Graph Search announcement. Does this mean I’ll finally be living in a utopian society where social media will guide my searches based on what my Facebook friends think about products? Will I finally be living a life of bliss when my online connections serve as my life compass?
If my sarcasm is any indication of my personal view, my answer is no. Should I feel bad that I don’t care what 90 percent of Facebook friends think about stuff?
The thought of online not being a true driver of recommendations isn’t just my wacky idea. According to Ed Keller, co-author of The Face-to-Face Book: Why Real Relationships Rule in a Digital Marketplace, 90 percent of real-world conversations about brands, products and services happen offline. This statistic indicates that true product recommendations require a dialogue and the ability to ask qualifying questions, such as “Why did you like that?” — not just a one-way endorsement of “Hey, I had a really good experience with this widget and you will too, because we’re Facebook friends!”
Before you start thinking I don’t care about the rich data social media offers, I do. I do so much that I run a social media advertising agency called Rocket XL. At the risk of alienating clients like Unilever and PepsiCo, here’s a telling example of why companies should not rely on quantiative social data without the qualitative insight.
Say I’m planning to download a movie from Vudu. My Facebook feed might tell me that “Chasing Mavericks” is the most popular new release among my friends. This must be something I have to see immediately, right? But if I were to speak to these friends face-to-face and ask them why they liked the movie, perhaps they’d reveal: “The hot blonde surfer chicks” or “Gerard Butler…hot.”
In other words, they’d be happy to watch the movie on mute just for the eye candy, not because the movie is any good.
Before I get accused of living offline in the last century, the area I think social product opinions can work very well is in the difficult art of selecting a gift for a friend, family member or colleague. If Facebook, or some other future algorithm, can tell me what’s popular with a friend and accurately suggest gift ideas, that’s brilliant because I’m clueless when it comes to giving gifts and I’ve yet to see a service truly succeed with social gifting recommendations. I can’t wait to see who cracks it first.
Until then, I publicly apologize to all my online connections. Just because we’re Facebook friends doesn’t mean that I care about your social media likes. It’s not you, it’s me.