Who counts as an expert online?

Maybe in a few years time. Pic courtesy of Wired.

I’ve just bought a used car. It was an educational rather than an enjoyable experience. Like most people I did my information search and consideration online, and was faced with lots of information which I viewed sceptically. With a fragile male ego to protect (no way was I going to get sold a pup) two questions occurred to me – ‘who should I trust’ and ‘who is an expert’?

One site that caught my eye was www.pistonheads.co.uk – a site created by car lovers, with sections covering news, advice, discussion as well as classifieds. Effectively an interest-based social network, members post questions and discuss cars, servicing, parts, and maintenance.

It stands to reason that if you have a query about the pros and cons of chipping your Nissan to up its performance – which might invalidate your warranty – the Nissan forum is a good place to go. Peers with experience in the area can give you frank, impartial advice. Arguably this is more valuable than professional advice as there is no sales motive to account for.

What interested me most was that some discussions didn’t concern cars. A quick scan took in fixed-rate mortgages versus trackers, tips for job interviews and even what the Big Society actually means. It threw me at first. On reflection I think it tells us about trust.

From the evidence here, an expert is someone like you who has been through a similar situation. Someone who gives me their honest opinion and who I think has no vested interest in the response then ends up being listened to.

This expertise then breeds trust – once I’ve received sound advice on one topic it means I’m likely to seek and accept it on another. It might be voting advice from the money saving expert or plasma tellies from your grocer – trust is transferrable. Once you’ve passed the threshold you (or your brand) enters safe territory.

We’re all familiar with polls telling us that trust in big companies, the state and the media are at an historic low. Prevailing common sense suggests that these vast intangible entities have interests which are stacked up against our own. Yet at an individual level I see less evidence of mistrust – even online where we’re supposed to be careful – people tend to trust people. Even if that means basing the largest purchase of your life at least in part on advice from someone posting under the pen name camshafted.

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About Simon Shaw

I'm a Director at a communications agency. I'm interested in marketing, market research & consumer psychology. The views expressed are not necessarily those of my employer.
This entry was posted in Consumer Psychology, Marketing, Technology. Bookmark the permalink.

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