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Is Trust In Social Media Dying?

Social media has exploded in recent years in its use to gauge customers’ likes and dislikes and to identify consumer buying trends. Users have migrated from trusting traditional media for reviews, ratings, and recommendations to trusting what their peers have to say in social media. The new age of digital and social media is upon us, and apparently, already dying in some areas. New data shows consumers are rebelling against all the “noise.”

In Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer survey, it was revealed that consumers are losing trust in each other when it comes to providing credible information about products or companies. Confidence has dropped by nearly half since 2008 leading to only about 25% of people trusting their peers and friends online for information.

While the dip in trust was across the board, there was a large emphasis on social media. ZDNet’s Jennifer Leggio writes:

“Social networking used to be innocent, peer to peer conversation and now it’s turned into a marketing playground in which almost everything — blog space, tweets and, in some cases, opinion — is for sale,”

Possible causes of social distrust

While the root of the issue isn’t fully known, there is much speculation. One speculation is that Internet marketers are further and further infiltrating social media, and consumers are becoming more and more skeptical about the influences behind peer referrals.

Privacy concerns have also created skepticism over social media. Richard Edelman, CEO,  in reference to privacy issues encountered with popular social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, stated:

“The events of the last 18 months have scarred people. People have to see messages in different places and from different people. That means experts as well as peers or company employees. It’s a more skeptical time.”

The recession has made consumers more skeptical and they now tend to turn to experts rather than acquaintances. In troubled times, such uncertainty is magnified. All of this explains the rise in the number of people willing to pay attention to sources like proven academics and experts.

In addition, fast growing networks of friends often include people of acquaintance rather than people truly known in real life. Combined with the sheer volume of recommendations being pushed, via friends and peers, each day dilutes the importance of each message.

Establishing credibility

For marketers, in order to repair the lack of trust, extra measures must be taken. Transparency and honesty are the key to establishing credibility with your audience. Couple that with good and credible content and messaging that people will feel comfortable sharing, and you have a recipe for a great foundation of credibility.

Once you have your audience on your side, remember to give back to the community and reciprocate however is appropriate.

Closing thoughts

This survey should be taken with a grain of salt. Like a lot of surveys, it contains a few catches:

“The 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer survey sampled 4,875 informed publics in two age groups (25-34 and 35-64). All informed publics met the following criteria: college-educated; household income in the top quartile for their age in their country; read or watch business/news media at least several times a week; follow public policy issues in the news at least several times a week.”


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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