Like this brand on Facebook. Leave a tip on Foursquare. Rate your transaction on Amazon. Review us on Yelp. Seems like everyone from the corner store to Microsoft wants your opinion these days. Since when did you get so important?
Well, since now. Brands want your endorsement because recommendations from real people have become extremely valuable—traditional ads just aren’t enough anymore. Facebook’s Gokul Rajaram told Forbes that Facebook’s social ads make people about four times more likely to buy a product than other ads on the site. And I’ve seen similar results working at the tech startup Bre.ad—the personalized billboards our users share via social media get up to 100 times more engagement than typical banner advertisements do.
Taking a friend’s advice is nothing new. But social media has taken what used to be off-hand recommendations to friends and family and amplified them around the world, to a point where people you’ve never met can weigh your opinion in their next decision. I call this trend the rise of the endorsement culture—a culture where everyone is a promoter.
Don’t think that’s you? Think again. Your voice is now stronger than you realize.
The Democratization of Endorsements
Today, we’re asked for our recommendations so often that it’s hard to remember how this whole endorsement culture started. Yelp launched in 2004 and built a recommendation engine based on reviews from real people. Shortly thereafter, e-commerce sites started to give credit to users who referred their friends—a strategy that drove early user acquisition for many of the flash-sale websites like Rue La La and Gilt.
But it quickly become about more than just endorsing brands and businesses. eBay’s peer-to-peer market pioneered the need to give feedback on individuals. Amazon followed suit, with its seller reviews paving the way for the web-sharing economy (Airbnb and Getaround, among others), which relies heavily on our willingness to vouch for and endorse each other.
“I don’t buy anything without looking at reviews,” explains Kellee Van Horne, 27, who worked in online sales for a large Internet business. “It seems like no one trusts companies anymore, so recommendations from real people are more important.”
Same goes for offline purchases. No longer do I have to trust a box which proclaims its contents to be the “best-tasting cereal in America”—I can instantly verify that opinion with real people on my mobile device.
Quantifying Your Influence
No matter what we’re purchasing or consuming, endorsement culture is changing the way we make decisions. This, of course, has major implications for businesses. They want me to like their products—but how do they find out how who influences me, and whose recommendations I’ll take?
Enter Klout, the ambitious first-mover in the nascent influence-measuring market. The web tool pulls data from your social media presence and quantifies your ability to drive others’ actions online. The result is the Klout Score, a rating between 1 to 100. Despite exciting partnerships with social media players like Vitrue and CoTweet, Klout is off to a bit of a rough start. Some critics bristle that the stark numerical ranking is a brazen popularity contest and TechCrunch writer Alexia Tsotsis not-so-subtly noted, “I’m pretty sure my Klout score doesn’t matter at all, to anyone.”
But Klout hopes big brands will disagree. Earlier this year, the website rolled out Klout Perks, a platform that allows brands to identify and target influencers, providing them with discounts in hopes that they will endorse the product to their networks. This has been the realm of bloggers and online personalities for years—as well as their income model—but Klout appears to be opening that door for others.
Putting a number on influence—however crude it is right now—is a critically important milestone for the endorsement culture. And as technology improves, we’ll only get better at mapping the dynamics of how we’re influenced.
Giving Credit Where it’s Due
Perhaps we’ll see a day when we give someone credit for every single purchase we make and action we take. Imagine buying a new brand of chocolate based on a recommendation from a friend (for the record, I like Sweet Riot). What if you could give that friend credit right at the point of purchase through your mobile device?
Or maybe you picked one college over another because of an influential mentor. What if you could record who helped you make your decision?
It’s not so hard to imagine. I predict a technological future that includes not just a static social graph depicting our relationships, but a dynamic influence graph that shows how we interact with and affect one another. Capturing and measuring data about who influences whom may be the most important data set in the history of human behavior.
And if that happens, don’t forget to give me credit for telling you first.
Photo courtesy of Grant_Robertson.
Anneke is a founding executive and leads the business side of Reserve, one of Fast Company's Most Innovative companies of 2016. She joined Reserve from the Google Creative Lab where she led teams building the future of tech. An advisor to NPR and a startup veteran, she is an experienced entrepreneur and storyteller who speaks and writes on topics related to technology and culture. She lives in Brooklyn and can be found online at @annekejong.More from this Author