Study: 'Influencers' Possess Less Clout

In the world of social media, so-called "influencers" might have less clout than some marketers think.

According to a new study from Canadian research firm Pollara, self-described social media users put far more trust in friends and family online than in popular bloggers, or strangers with 10,000 MySpace "friends."

Of more than 1,100 adults polled in December, nearly 80% said they were very or somewhat more likely to consider buying products recommended by real-world friends and family, while only 23% reported being very or somewhat likely to consider a product pushed by "well-known bloggers."

"This shows that popularity doesn't always equate to credibility," said Robert Hutton, executive vice president and general manager at Pollara. "Marketers might have to reconsider who the real influencers are out there."

While resisting any cookie-cutter definition of "influencers," some experts on Wednesday did defend the basic connection between a blogger's popularity--measured by Web traffic and the frequency at which their site is linked to by other sites--and their credibility among consumers.

"There's some validation in the number of links and traffic someone gets," said Pete Blackshaw, executive vice president at the Nielsen Online Strategic Services division of the Nielsen Company.

Yet, added Blackshaw, "understanding real influence, you have to look at a number of factors from the type of audience someone attracts, where their expertise lies, and the context in which other sites are linking to them."

Another key finding by Pollara is the sheer number of consumers sharing their opinions online. In a similar study of some 1,800 adults, Pollara found that the majority considered social media channels--whether blogs, social networks, or community forums--important for sharing their thoughts on products, services, organizations, and brands.

Pollara found that 57% of those 18-to-34 deemed social media tools very or somewhat important for sharing such opinions online.

What's more, 59% of respondents considered social media very or somewhat important in learning about products, services, organizations, and brands.

Overall, social media remains chiefly a mode of communication and personal expression, rather than a source of credible information. A full 68% of users employ social media tools to connect with friends, while 44% use them to be heard.

Notably, more users believe online forums are a reliable source of information than those who do not--44% to 15%--demonstrating the unique market position held by popular voter-based recommendation sites likes and

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