Lunch and Learn: UT Professor Rajiv Garg on Trust in Social Networks

Life is all about establishing connections. These days, the ability to do so through social media networks is greater than ever before. Reports show that 1 in 4 people in the world use social media—which means that, out of the world’s roughly 7 billion people, there are a whopping 1.75 BILLION social media users. Thanks to this amazing connectivity, it has never been easier for us to grow trust in social networks, share ideas, keep up with friends across the globe (Twitter, Facebook) or waste ridiculous amounts of time watching funny videos (Youtube). Thanks, Gangnam Style!

This theme of social connectivity was prevalent in our Lunch & Learn with UT Assistant Professor Rajiv Garg, whose research focuses heavily on Network Theory and social networking trends. Rajiv stressed that, in an environment where connections are as easily made as they ever have been, users and marketers must understand that the quality of these connections will now be exponentially more valuable than the quantity.

He discovered this as part of his research for “To Be or Not to Be Linked on LinkedIn.” He sought to determine whether a higher number of connections on LinkedIn would lead to greater probability of being hired for a new position. What he found was that a high number of “casual” or weak-ties connections led job searchers to access more jobs, but too high a number of casual connections or “neutral” recommendations led prospective candidates to be seen as less hirable.  The research further suggested that having fewer, but high quality, connections and recommendations on LinkedIn drove more success when applying to jobs. The takeaway is that employers are more interested in an employee with a mastery of a couple skills, not just a competency in many.

Professor Garg also stressed the importance of understanding the trust factor when it comes to marketing. According to Nielsen data, 84% of consumers trust word-of-mouth recommendations (earned advertising) more than any other type of marketing. It’s one thing to be the target of a paid Facebook ad based on things that you have liked, or your demographics. But Rajiv suggests that we as consumers have been conditioned to tune these ads out. He argues that we are less likely to tune out the likes, shares, or comments of the friends in our network whose trust we already have. Based on this research, Rajiv sees social networking features fully integrating with everything from Yelp to Amazon, enabling consumers to use this trust to make informed purchasing decisions.

What are some of the ways trust plays a role in your social networking? Join the conversation on Twitter: @SocialDistiller.

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