Sunday, February 07, 2010

Establishing Trust in the Age of Social Media

The "end goal" of all marketing efforts is to turn information gatherers into trusted consumers. While PR and advertising both work toward this goal, one of the greatest selling points of social media has been that trust will come faster since the real focus is on sharing information and not selling. Unfortunately, a new survey indicates that's not yet true.

Edelman, the nation's largest independent PR firm, has for years conducted an extensive round of interviews of consumers in conjunction with its annual Trust Barometer. Edelman recently published the results of its 10th annual survey, which yielded some surprises.

Of the 4,875 people aged 25 to 64 surveyed, the number of people who people who trusted information from "people like me" dropped from 47 percent to 27 percent. Digital media in particular fared poorly; only 11 to 22 percent of those surveyed indicated they trusted blogs, social networks and other free content sources, such as Wikipedia or Google News.

Traditional media, as one might expect, didn't fare very well either. Trust in television news dropped from 44 percent to 24 percent; trust in newspapers declined from 46 to 32 percent and radio fell from 48 percent to 31 percent -- it's smaller drop probably a reflection of the fact that radio news is generally much more pervasive in larger markets.

While the traditional media results were probably not surprising, most were dismayed by the social-media numbers, since the premise of the medium has generally been that people will trust information and recommendations from friends more than third parties they don't know. This survey shows that, while the results all around were relatively poor, some do place value in having a trusted gatekeeper -- something that's always been held as the primary advantage of major media outlets.

Edelman chief Richard Edelman can be seen elaborating on the survey here