One of the most surprising and potentially disruptive studies I came across last month was a portion of PR firm Edelman’s recently released yearly “trust barometer”. The study was reported in the February 8th 2010 issue of Advertising Age with the headline: “Edelman Shows that Only 25% of People Find Peers Credible, Flying in Face of Social Media Wisdom” and the opening line to that piece was:
Whom do we increasingly trust less? Us
The forthcoming April 2010 issue of The Information Advisor examines the issue of trust, word of mouth, and social networks, and as part of this, we were fortunate enough to have a chance to conduct an email interview with Matthew Harrington, President & CEO, Edelman U.S. to ask some clarifying questions on the survey.
Below is a lightly edited and summary of our email based discussion:
Q. Despite the reported drop, is trust in friends still the most trusted of all traditionally measured sources (eg broadcast news, newspapers, etc.)
A. Actually it is industry analyst or stock reports and articles in business magazines that held strong as the most trusted sources of information about a company.
When considering how credible each of the following is as a source of information about a company, the 20-country global total results for ages 25-64 are as follows:
- Stock or industry analyst reports is #1 with 49%
- Articles in business magazines is #2 with 44%
- Conversations with company employees is #3 with 41%
- News coverage on the radio is #4 with 38%
- Conversations with your friends and peers is #5 with 37%
The U.S. results for ages 25-64 are as follows:
- Articles in business magazines is #1 with 49%
- Stock or industry analyst reports is #2 with 48%
- Conversations with company employees is #3 with 38%
- Articles in newspapers is #4 with 32%
- News coverage on the radio is #5 with 31%
- Conversations with your friends and peers is #6 with 27% (tied with “Online search engines e.g. Google news, YouTube” and “Corporate communications such as press releases, reports and emails”)
Q. Do you feel that this drop is an anomaly, or represents a significant shift? If the latter, what are the key reasons you think the drop may be occurring?
A. The events of the last 18 months have been traumatic for many people. It’s possibly just a sign of the times, with consumers likely just rebelling against the noise and reflecting the effects of uncertain times. In a year characterized by economic confusion and uncertainty, trust in expert/credentialed/experienced information sources has prevailed. Also, as social media has grown, there’s been an explosion of “friend”/social networks as well as marketing efforts centered around them (which may make these networks seem less organic – making it harder for people to know whom to trust and thus more skeptical of “peer” recommendations). In a volatile year, people have also valued guidance from credentialed experts over a “person like me,” which lost ground as a credible voice of information for a company (from 47% in 2009 to 44% in 2010 for the 20-country global results among ages 25-64; and from 62% in 2008 to 40% in 2010 for the U.S. among ages 25-64).
Q. This poll specifically seemed to focus on how much trust one puts in friends regarding their “trust in companies“. Do you feel this also carries over to trust in products, services, features etc?
A. The Edelman Trust Barometer measures trust in business, government, media and NGOs. We can only point to data that the findings indicate. Re: services/products being attributes that influence reputation, globally (22-country total of ages 25-64), “offers high quality products or services” was #1 with 68%, followed by “has transparent and honest business practices” with 67%, and “is a company I can trust” with 66%.
For the U.S. (ages 25-64), “has transparent and honest business practices” is #1 with 82%, followed by “is a company I can trust” with 80%, and “offers high quality products or services” with 79%.
Q. Do you feel that the respondents of this poll are broadly representative of all consumers, or a specified slice or demographic?
A. The 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer survey sampled 4,875 informed publics in two age groups (25-34 and 35-64) in 22 countries. As “ informed publics” they meet specific criteria that differentiates them from broad-based consumes. The specific criteria encompasses 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; AND follow public policy issues in the news at least several times a week
Q. If in fact, people are trusting their friends’ recommendations less, what might be some of the practical implications for marketers and market researchers?
A. People have to see and hear a message in different places and from different people (in fact, in 3-5 different places, per the 2009 Trust Barometer) before they believe it. This simply points to the skeptical nature of the time. So if companies are looking at peer-to-peer and “friend” marketing as part of a larger whole (including experts, company employees, etc), that’s good. But it’s not a magic bullet or single-source solution and points to the importance of a multi-channel/multi-spokesperson approach. In short, companies and marketers must build a mosaic of trust by cultivating a wide circle of expert spokespeople, communicating through a variety of channels (inclusive of, but not exclusive to, friends/peers), and partnering with organizations (such as NGOs) to advance the common good.
Q. Given the change in what a “friend” means in the last few days, do you think that perhaps the word “friend” is no longer as clear as it once was, and that future studies should be more specific, and break down the elements in that word, something along the lines of, say: social contacts you know/don’t know offline; colleagues at work, etc.?
A. There are consumers who still only trust the people they see every day as their “friends” or only a core group of friends on Facebook/another social network. There are also those who trust all of their “social networked”/casual acquaintance “friends.” With the growth/extension of casual circles and acquaintances via peer networks, it can indeed be harder for some to know whom to trust – thus diluting trust levels in “friends.” But with both groups, there are opportunities for brands. There is still a core group of influencers that can change how people trust and influence the actions of others; and consumers, whether they are close to them or not, will follow their lead. If marketers can find consumers that we refer to as “action consumers,” they can build campaigns that work through and within their parameters and still produce very good results.