Global PR firm Edelman put out its annual “Trust Barometer” last week, but I’m only getting to it now. It measures trust in brands, companies, CEOs and various media, among other things. One of the other things it asks about is how much we trust our peers.
What the most recent findings show is that since 2008 trust in friends/peers has dropped from 45% to 25%. As you also can see from the graphic below, trust has dropped in TV, radio and newspapers. AdAge summarizes and discusses the findings.
The interesting question is whether the rise of social networking online has in any way caused this decline, because it certainly coincides with the growth of social media. Edelman CEO Richard Edelman is paraphrased in the AdAge piece, saying that “consumers have to see and hear things in five different places before they believe it.” That’s probably not literal but means consumers need confirmation/validation of some fact or idea before they’ll accept it — no single source will do.
The findings cast doubt on the efficacy of social media as a stand-alone marketing strategy (nobody ever said it was). However, the notion that somebody on Twitter or Facebook says something or recommends something and means automatic acceptance by peers is clearly wrong. Companies that are seeking to cultivate peer or viral marketing via social nets need to be mindful of this.
Isolated recommendations or reviews — even from friends — aren’t really credible. They work when there’s no other option. But we look for multiple sources of information for confirmation of a choice, to Edelman’s point. Review consensus is what we seek.
The rise of social networks and corresponding growth of affiliations, which are mostly loose now, means that advice and recommendations coming through these systems will carry limited weight. They’re suggestions and not much more. For example every day practically I get an email saying Friend X has become a “fan” of organization or company Y on Facebook. I ignore 99.999999% of these.
As David Berkowitz of 360i says in the AdAge article there’s a lot of “noise” out there now. Friends can be filters or they can contribute to the noise. These days, however, they mostly seem to contribute to the noise.
Update: I should have posted that others have found something contrary. Here for example are Nielsen data (from a global survey for 25,000 people) stating that peers/friends/family (“people known”) are the most commonly trusted source followed by online reviews:
This isn’t “apples to apples” because of the phrasing of the question “some degree of trust,” but it is counter to the above. These data were collected in April, 2009.
Beyond the framing of the question, how would you explain this discrepancy?