Like 'Em, Sure, But Would You Listen to Their Advice?
The online media world likes to get itself all wound up over big ideas, even when they are so vague it's kind of hard to imagine actual applications. "Social search" is one such nebulous concept: according to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook could supplant or at least complement Google's Web-based searches with its own search results drawing on the social networks surrounding each member. At a certain level, this sounds logical enough: if you are searching for, say, music or TV shows, it seems reasonable to assume you may share preferences with your immediate social circle. But this is only an assumption, begging the question: how often, and to what extent, do people in the same social network actually follow each other's tastes when trying new products or services?
I don't have the answer to this question (sorry) but I did find some interesting food for thought in the form of a new study from Apartments.com, which surveyed 850 visitors to its national website visitors to determine how active they were with social media, as well as how it affected their apartment search and where they ultimately chose to live.
Interestingly, the survey found that people tend not to turn to social media as a resource when looking for apartments. Specifically, while 71% of Apartments.com visitors surveyed said they used social media, just a quarter said they use it during their apartment search. Tellingly, among those who do use social media, the most "social" applications were the least popular: where 55% used social media to find photos and videos of apartments, just 21% used social media to share apartment information with friends or seek feedback.
While these survey results are interesting, I can think of a number of reasons they might not be representative of social media habits when it comes to brand and product choice in general. First of all, dwellings stand apart from pretty much every other consumer category, both in the size of the expenditure and the impact these choices have on everyday life; the only thing which comes close is automobile purchases. Considering the expense and importance of this particular choice, consumers may already have a clear idea of what they want, with little need to refer to their peers for more information.
On the other hand, there's no question that social networks display geographic sorting to varying degrees -- whether it be a group of young professionals all clustering in the same hip neighborhood, or a whole professional caste which tends to be bi-coastal. And these geographic factors tend to line up with many other kinds of consumer preference: just imagining the stereotypical Brooklyn hipster from Williamsburg invokes a whole array of choices spanning media, clothing, food, technology, and so on (and just because it's "stereotypical" doesn't mean it's not true -- quite the opposite, in fact).