Powered by TMCnet
| More

Cable Technology Feature Article

February 12, 2010

Trust is a Fragile Thing

By Gary Kim, Contributing Editor

One of the supposedly benefits of social media is that people “trust” product and service evaluations more than they trust claims made by product suppliers. But trust levels seem to have dropped, according to Edelman.
The number of people who view their friends and peers as credible sources of information about a company dropped by almost half, from 45 percent to 25 percent, since 2008 (http://www.edelman.com/trust/2010/).
To be sure, consumers are a distrustful bunch in general, Edelman said . The credibility of TV dropped 23 points and radio news and newspapers were down 20 points between 2008 and 2010 as well.
So far this year, 39 percent of those surveyed felt the messages conveyed by consumer spokespeople was credible compared to 45 percent in 2009, the biggest drop-off among all categories.
Conversely, CEOs doing commercials for their firms saw the biggest year-over-year increase, from 17 percent in 2009 to 26 percent this year.
Other groups with increases in the level of consumer trust were government officials (22 percent growing to 27 percent), financial or industry analysts (46 percent growing to 52 percent) and academic experts (61 percent growing to 64 percent).
Company employees, on the other hand, are less trusted. Where their trust levels were at 31 percent in 2009, they are down to 28 percent in 2010.
You might wonder why this has happened.
In some cases, social networks themselves may be contributing to the decline in trust. Platforms such as Facebook (News - Alert) and Twitter have allowed people to maintain larger circles of casual associates, which may be diluting the credibility of peer-to-peer networks, Edelman suggests.
In short, the more acquaintances a person has, the harder it can be to trust him or her.
Over-active efforts by social marketers to use consumers as marketing conduits might also be an issue. “They believe every product review was written by an ex-Belkin employee and blogs posts are sanctioned by a sponsoring company’s marketing department,” for example.
“Social networking used to be innocent, peer-to-peer conversation and now it’s turned into a marketing playground in which almost everything is for sale,” said  ZDNet’s Jennifer Leggio.
But it might also be the case that the sheer volume of recommendations being pushed, to social networking feeds each day has diluted their importance.
It might also be the case that the recession has made consumers more skeptical and they now tend to turn to experts rather than acquaintances.
At the same time, the relevance of recommendations by people one actually knows fairly well might be as relevant and effective as ever.
Nielsen Online (News - Alert), for example, found in April 2009 that more than 90 percent of Internet users in North America trusted recommendations from people they knew.
“Gaming the system” with fake reviews does not seem to work. People aren’t stupid, even if marketers sometimes try to treat them that way.

Gary Kim (News - Alert) is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Gary’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Marisa Torrieri