Why do we recommend? Recommendations are at the heart of the consumer-generated media (CGM) movement, but why do we bother? Is there a rhyme or reason, or a rational explanation? I found myself asking these questions after receiving the upteenth invitation from a friend, close colleague, or 'trusted expert' last week to try this new service called Twitter. I also found myself asking this question after reading a post by marketing blogger Erik Kintz questioning why everyone is making such a huge deal out of Second Life, a question which triggered spirited, mostly validating, responses, by B.L. Ochman and others. Second Life is another service that people have sworn by the bible as the most amazing, incredible next big thing -- especially as a platform for marketing -- but I've never quite connected the dots (nor, apparently, has Erik).
So, again, I ask: why do we recommend? What's in it for me? What's in it for the recipients? And why all of a sudden? Twitter allows you to instantly send notes or blurbs from your mobile devices about what you are doing to a common shared platform or portal. But is this enough for folks to eat up currency insisting I try it? Me? Second Life offers a dynamic virtual worlds environment, but getting set up on the platform is no easy task, and I've started to notice that many of my friends who talk up the site like crazy, or weave Second Life into lofty speeches, barely use it? What gives?
My general hypothesis is that we recommend products and services to friends for a host of reasons beyond just the obvious -- e.g. we like and value the product. In fact sometimes we recommend products and services we barely understand. A couple potential drivers:
- First To Know & First to Tell: There's a certain "social currency" one derives in being first to tell others. When I first received Gmail, even before putting the product to the full torture test, I found myself telling others about the service, almost as though I needed to validate the fact that I was among the early elite product testers. Google seemed to understand that dynamic quite well, effectively managing the number of accounts I could share with folks. Joost is doing the same thing, and although my actual experience with Joost is quite limited (who has time), I seem to talk it up with others like it's the next big TV killer. Is that entirely rational?
- Favor Banking: There's also the dynamic of the "favor bank." Social networking often amounts to a big game of tradiing currency. My colleague Max Kalehoff and I trade websites all the time, and there's a beautiful spirit of reciprocity. Every once and a while Max makes me a bit insecure by sending me sites or blogs I should have already known about, And so I share stuff with him that may not necessarily be on my personal "playlist" but nonetheless fulfill my quota of information sharing. At one point, I probably insisted to Max that he check out Second Life.. .with righteousness, I might add.
- Credibility Rub-Off: In the case of Gmail, Google had such crediblity in my eyes that I was willing to make a leap of faith that this would render my spam-heavy Yahoo account irrelevant. I didn't really need to put the service to the "torture test" to spread the word to others. It just felt like second nature. In the case of Twitter, respected online conversationalists Robert Scoble and Steve Rubel have lined up in the Twitter camp, and their "cred" factor has probably led to a fair amount of "I gotta use it too!" reactions. Of course, that still doesn't mean the product is a winner.
- Projection: Sometimes we recommend things we wish or aspire to use or consumer, almost as thought the reco is a form of projection. Hate to admit this, but sometimes I find myself waxing poetic about books in which I've only skimmed the intro and first chapter. I should be reading this book in its entirely, I seem to be telling myself. Either that, or I'm trying (consciously or unconsciously) trying to project an undeserved level of booksmarts to others. Who knows? That why all of you should take my trusted recommendation and buy a Porsche! :-)
- Genuine Brand Love: Of course, there's always just the principle of genuine brand love -- the stuff Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell are always writing about. Sometimes we're just so fanatical about a particular product experience that we feel the urgent need to tell others; post it on a blog; spread it on a message board, and more. We're 100% sincere. I do think there's quite a bit of genuine-love around both Twitter and SecondLife, but I suspect the actual target audience is narrower than the cascading recommendations would suggests. Maybe!
Anyway, I don't want to scare any of you from sending me "cool new stuff." Just know that I might be secretly wondering exactly what's behind the generosity! Again, why should I use Twitter?