While word-of-mouth recommendations have long been considered the “holy grail” of marketing, new research highlights direct, in-person recommendations as the most trustworthy and finds that the top online recommendations are YouTube video reviews and friends who “like” brand pages on Facebook.

According to the 2013 Recommendation Study by Zócalo Group, 91 percent of consumers make a recommendation after having a positive experience with a particular brand. Many also express an altruistic motivation, with 49 percent saying that they made a recommendation because they “wanted to help the person [they] made a recommendation to.”

Other findings include:
• Direct, in-person recommendations are considered the most trustworthy, with online product reviews close behind.
• The top online recommendations are YouTube video reviews (46.5 percent) and friends “liking” brand pages on Facebook (46.1 percent).
• The top offline recommendations are face-to-face expressions of love for a brand (64.5 percent), closely followed by a friend or co-worker using a specific brand (64.3 percent).

“Social media sources, notably Facebook and YouTube, have become almost as powerful as the long-standing face-to-face recommendation, oftentimes, even if the consumer doesn’t know the recommender,” says Paul Rand, Zócalo Group president and CEO, and author of the soon-to-be released book, Highly Recommended.

According to Nielsen, 92 percent of all consumers report that a recommendation from their friends and family are the leading influences on their purchase behavior.

The survey found differences between the perceived trustworthiness of different sources of recommendations. Direct, in-person recommendations lead, with 63.1 percent of respondents saying they are the most trustworthy. The channels most used for recommendations are similar to those that were named the most credible – in-person encounters (68.9 percent) and Facebook posts (37.1 percent) are two of the top places people make recommendations.

In terms of who they listen to, respondents said friends (79.5 percent) and family members (73.4 percent) the most, with celebrity spokespeople (4.1 percent) on the low end.

“Brands need to understand where, how and why they are—or aren’t—being recommended,” Rand says. “Both consumer and business to business brands now have the power to directly influence and impact how they are recommended – and bought. This research gives us an even clearer look and how both explicit and implied recommendations are changing the game.”