THE BLOG
09/19/2013 03:18 pm ET Updated Nov 19, 2013

Quieter Specialized Social Media Influence and Trust

Thought leaders should pay less attention to rapidly rising apps, such as Vine, and more to the maturing world of online influence and trust.

Signs point to the growing importance of interest groups in social network sites that cater to very specific and immediate needs. For example, a colleague pointed me to ResearchGate.net that leverages existing social contacts at a faculty member's university and other campuses selected by the user. By focusing on peers, the site is more specific than LinkedIn. Users may ask a research question, focus on research papers published by colleagues and develop new projects. In other words, it is a tool for professional collaboration and influence.

When it comes to consumer influence, not enough thought leaders and social media gurus give Yelp.com credit. It builds upon the review model that Amazon.com made work for products. In the specific area of restaurant reviews, Yelp can make a large difference for small businesses. It appears that a majority of Yelp readers are influenced by reviews, and this can translate into business revenues.

Of course, unscrupulous competitors can poison the review system and others may be simply out to tarnish the brand of a business. This has forced Yelp to become more aggressive in trying to stamp out fake reviews.

Some individuals and advertising companies try to "game the system," and Yelp has had to go to court to try to stop an online marketing firm. Clearly, selling reviews is a bad idea that threatens credibility. Nevertheless, customers build knowledge based upon word of mouth, review patterns and experience. Trusting sources and messages is fluid, and it constantly is impacted by personal experiences.

Even within large social networks, such as Twitter, trust is built over time for its users and the platform.

Online engagement happens between people day by day. It begins with actual friends, colleagues and collaborators. As a user's social network grows, she or he reaches out to people, brands and organizations. Credibility is tested through daily interaction and experiences.

Attempts to convert social media into PR and marketing spaces for pushing content based upon a calendar or schedule run the risk of losing followers. Natural communication happens organically - even when launched with purpose.

While mobile media continue to transform the social media experience, communication fundamentals remain key. A 6-second Vine video lacks context, if it fails to tell an engaging story or connect with authentic social network communication.

Even within the marketing and consumer space, trust continues to be built upon transparency and authenticity.

Mintel, identifying five social media trends, noted that brands must respond to "highly influential users," "proactive" campaigns need to listen to customer discussion, huge media events are opportunities for engagement, and bloggers often lead opinion through influence with their readers.

Social media appear to follow traditional personal influence patterns. Mass media may trigger word of mouth conversation and interactive communication. Consumers constantly monitor chatter for new information and signs that they are making good or bad decisions. Friends, face-to-face or virtual, exercise influence through personal knowledge and credibility. It is not always the large media blasts that make the difference. Quieter conversation with trusted sources may generate influential ideas. The real power of social networking and social media is in identification of credible messages at times when a user is ready to make a decision.