Rural Lifestylers and the Influence of Online Reviews

by Mark Smither and Sara Steever
April 12, 2013

2013 Update: In 2011, Paulsen conducted a three-month study to better understand how online communities, brand advocates and customer reviews influence the purchase decisions of rural lifestylers. The study involved 13 personal interviews with acreage owners and hobby farmers in the Midwest, as well as 341 completed email surveys of individuals who live in C and D counties throughout the United States.

In this study, Paulsen identified two types of online contributors who have decision-making impact on potential customers: micro and macro influencers. These influencers are often sought out while making purchasing decisions.

Micro influencers are defined as individuals or peers who share a common interest and are connected in some way through digital media.

  • Social media friends
  • Online communities
  • Shopping sites that contain ratings and reviews

Macro influencers are defined as experts or leaders on a particular subject matter.

  • Industry thought leaders
  • Veterinarians and nutritionists
  • Dealers
  • Educators and research leaders
  • Member organizations and trade groups
  • Trusted friends and family

One of the key insights from the 2011 study was that 75 percent of rural lifestylers shop for products and make purchases online. Of those who shop online, 99 percent read product reviews.

As a follow-up to the 2011 study, Paulsen decided to revisit the role of micro and macro influencers. If we accept the idea that online reviews are essential to the purchase process—and that micro and macro influencers play an important function in this process—then it would be interesting to learn exactly how important. Because understanding the level of importance helps us as marketers in deciding how much weight to put behind online communities, social media and online reviews.

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