Friday, February 5, 2010

Trust in social media; in the eye of the beholder?

The 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer (which I wrote about as part of an earlier posting) was recently released. If you find social media distasteful, there’s news here for you. If you’re a social media fan – there’s something here for you, too.

First, the good news for social media wonks – in the digital realm, trust in “social networking sites (such as MySpace and Facebook) increased by four points from the 2009 results. Trust in digital content sources (such as Wikipedia) increased by a single point, and trust in search engines (such as Google) remained unchanged.

If your cup is half empty, you’d note that:

  • Trust in all of these “digital” media is not exactly high (ranging from the lowest – 17% -- for blogs to the highest -- 35% -- for search engines; and,

  • Trust in social media sites actually dropped from 2008 – where it stood at 20% -- to 15% in 2009; so, over the 2008 – 2010 period, trust in social media sites has actually dropped by 1%.

There is no question, as Richard Edelman points out, that trust in the “old line” media has continued to drop over the decade. However, trust in radio news (38%), television news (36%) and newspaper articles (34%) still equal or better the social media.

Similarly, “conversations with your friends and peers” as a source of trusted information also plays to mixed reviews (down from 40% to 37% from 2009 to 2010). However, those “conversations” still rank higher than articles in newspapers, television news coverage, and all social media.

As is sometimes the case with surveys and statistics, the results sometimes surprise.

If “conversations with friends and peers” (while dropping in trust by 3 points) still stands at a relatively high 37%, why are those same conversations significantly less trustworthy when they happen on Facebook or MySpace (19%), where, after all, we are usually reading our friends’ and peers’ postings?

How do we explain the seeming incongruity that while trust in "conversations with our friends and peers" has dropped to 37%, trust in “conversations with company employees” has increased to 41%? Don’t these employees work for the same companies in whom our overall trust level has declined over time?

In the end, as Richard Edelman notes, “social media” probably matters a lot (and its influence is growing), but organizations and individuals should not rely on these sources exclusively. As Edelman notes, “. . . don’t rely on them to tell your story solo; it isn’t ‘a’ or ‘b’, it’s ‘a’ and ‘b’ and ‘c’ and ‘d’.”

You can listen to Richard Edelman on the subject of trusted sources by clicking here.

And view the Executive Summary of the report by clicking here.