However, lets just think about this for a second. We allow others to give us an opinion and depending upon the amount of influence they have, we trust that opinion less or more. Therefore the customers (In reality everyone, for we are all customers of some products & services) are influenced differently, but to some extent we value the input of people we don't know. It is now possible for anyone to influence anyone else.
Before you deny this, consider if you've ever read a review on Amazon before buying a product or checked on the eBay seller before bidding on their item.
On the Internet, information about past transactions may be both limited and
potentially unreliable, but it can be distributed far more systematically than
the informal gossip among friends that characterizes conventional marketplaces.
Resnick & Zeckhauser 2001
This report is interesting as it tries to explain why buyers trust unknown sellers in the "vast
electronic garage sale" known as eBay, which, although isn't a social network to the precise letter of the definition, definately creates a sense of community, feedback and trust.
So, its not suprising then that http://www.universalmccann.com/ have recently published their latest research report entitled "When did we start trusting strangers?".
Hint: Way before social media became a popular term and perhaps we may have to look back even before Mr Resnick & Mr Zeckhauser started their research.
This report identifies a trend called casual influence, showing how its incredibly easy to influence other consumers by using quick voting and recommendations. They indicate that influence and online have almost become one and the same thing, as they put it:
There are so many tools to do this that we no longer have to really think actively about influencing
Food for thought?