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The REAL value of friendship

What is the point of Facebook and Twitter? Many have asked. Are they really there just to eat into your productive time? Aimlessly looking through the endless new feeds of people who you didn't bother to keep in touch with in the real world? Killing time by seeing the pictures of their nights out or their children cutely pulling funny faces? Or for stalking some celeb telling you all the details of their birthing experience or their commercially inspired flirtations?

Surely there's got to be more to it than that?

There certainly has been some attempts to commercialise Facebook. As I pointed out in a previous post the explosion in advertising in social media to say nothing of the revenues generated by online games brought into sharp recent focus by the planned IPO of Zynga

But, seriously, folks is this really what it's all about?

Virtual cows and less spammy advertising? Surely we can do better than this?

Well I think that we can see a more interesting future and it's interesting for Smaller and Medium sized Enterprises too. Hitherto the internet has been a "winner takes it all world". A place where Facebook, through its network effect has become the most attractive social network, defeating Bebo and MySpace and FriendsReunited, where Google dominates search and Amazon dominates shopping.

How can a small business compete? One way is to sell something so niche that the big guys don't really bother with you and you can attract enough sales due to the global reach of the web. But in truth if you're selling something reasonably common – and, by definition, most people will -- then it's tough to compete against the big guys, they can out spend you on Adwords, they can commit more resources to Search Engine Optimisation and will be higher up the rankings than you. Just as on the high street we are seeing the large multi-channel players squeezing out specialist stores.

But I contend that there is hope and that hope is social: It has long been noted that reviews are one of the best ways of getting more people to buy. Consumers trust the opinion of a stranger when it comes to booking their holiday. So much so that hotels are now paying guests to leave good reviews on Trip Advisor, but more powerful than strangers is the input of your friends.

With a hattip to our friends at emarketer reporting on this research from Knowledge Networks: 37% of US social media users trust what their friends and family members say about a brand or product on social media, compared to only 10% who trust what strangers say. Drilling down to specific social elements, 26% trust what friends and family members say in blog posts, 25% trust their posts on social media sites and 20% trust their tweets. This is compared to 7% who trust the blogs and posts of strangers, and 5% who trust strangers' tweets.

When all boiled down it seems that a social network recommendation is between three and four times as effective as a recommendation from a stranger.

Powerful stuff – maybe the true value of friendship.

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