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I’m downtown today at the inaugural Seattle Interactive Conference, where people are attending sessions on topics such as cloud computing, user experience, web search, mobile apps, social media and other aspects of the online world. Although the conference was envisioned in the spirit of South by Southwest Interactive, there seems to be more of a business twist to the SIC content overall.

One of the first sessions was from Stefan Weitz of Microsoft Bing, who presented some of the company’s latest research about the impact of friends on online decision-making, using the Microsoft search engine’s integration of Facebook friends as an example.

The company’s research shows that experts do influence us when we’re looking for technical help online, but not as much when we’re seeking buying advice.

“Part of the reason is that people don’t know who to trust. They don’t know who the experts are,” Weitz explained. “This notion of infusing experts into search is really challenging.”

Advice on finding a service provider, such as a doctor or lawyer tops the list of purchasing decisions where we look to our friends for help. Interestingly, friends don’t factor as much into decisions about hotels and vacation rentals.

And on average they’re barely on the radar when we’re looking for technical help.

Another interesting data point: Positive experiences reported by our friends are twice as likely to influence brand perception as negative experiences, according to the Microsoft research.

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