When my wife and I were planning our honeymoon in Puerto Rico, the first place we went to for help was TripAdvisor. We researched hotels, attractions and restaurants, and I would venture a guess that most of the decisions we made about our trip were impacted in some way by TripAdvisor reviews from people we had never met and probably never will.

In the same way that we sought out online reviewers, many people seek out experts online when making daily purchase decisions. In fact, online experts are becoming more popular than paid celebrity endorsers. It hasn’t always been this way, but there are statistics to back me up.

Take, for instance, research from SheKnows Media that shows women put the most trust in product and service recommendations from “real people” online. Of nearly 1,500 women surveyed, 86% said that they would rather hear from everyday people with whom they can relate, as opposed to a celebrity endorser when making a purchasing decision. Keep in mind, that women currently control 85% of all purchasing decisions in America. That amounts to a $14 trillion market.

On top of that, it can be dangerous for brands to put their trust in a celebrity endorser. Look no further than the recent downfall of long-time Subway spokesman Jared Fogle. According to The Reputation Institute, the sandwich chain’s reputation score fell 6 points (from 77 to 71) between the first and third quarters this year. There have been other instances like this in the past – one of the most notable being Tiger Woods and Nike. Brands can make a comeback, but, as Villing & Company President Thom Villing noted, winning doesn’t always take care of everything.

Let’s break it down even more. The study I cited earlier from SheKnows Media goes on to say that YouTube is the place to go for purchasing advice. The study found that 58% of women turn to YouTube for product reviews from "everyday experts." Along with that, 52% look to Facebook and 50% turn to Pinterest.

So not only are people consulting online “experts” for purchasing decisions, they’re also consulting with friends and family on social media.

The bottom line is this: people trust those who are like them. Trust is such a key factor in making a purchasing decision. In the past, people often trusted celebrities and their opinions very highly. Now, that may be dwindling. If an everyday blogger has tried a product and enjoyed it? Well, that seems to be good enough for most people.

Am I saying that the celebrity endorser is a thing of the past? No. Certainly some people will always be swayed by what the rich and famous are doing. Still, the modern consumer doesn’t seem to trust celebrity endorsements as much as in the past. This isn’t the first time this topic has been featured on our blog. Thom said it best in his post "No Trump: Why Sports Celebrity Endorsers Seldom Make Sense" from Feb. 2011.

"Consumers are much more influenced by the opinions of their peers with direct and credible experience about a product or service than they are by a celebrity who is being highly compensated to speak about a product with which he or she may have limited credible experience."

Four years later, it seems things haven’t changed drastically. I, for one, will be consulting TripAdvisor and relevant blogs for future purchase and travel decisions, and it looks like I’m not alone.

For example, if an everyday blogger has tried a product, enjoyed it, and then writes about their new found love for the product; that testimony seems to be good enough for a lot of people.

Aaron Charles is a content specialist at South Bend-based marketing communications agency Villing & Co.

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