Can Social Media Be Trusted?

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Have you ever asked a regular consumer where they get their information about your brands, products and services?

A lot of brands have done this, but push this question a little bit further: when consumers let you know where they first heard about your brands, products and services, why not ask they how much they trusted the information they got? Chris Brogan and Julien Smith wrote an amazing business book (and New York Times best-seller) titled, Trust Agents (which is now available in paperback), all about what it takes to build trust and relationships. Through the power of Social Media, we know that those who are open, transparent and can engage in some semblance of conversation can also build market share, conversations and – maybe – an online community to go with it.

Does the everyday consumer actually trust Social Media?

… And when we say "Social Media" what does that even mean? Is a Blog as trustworthy as a status update on Facebook? Does a tweet on Twitter garner the same respect as a Podcast? Some pretty interesting things to think about (especially if you’re about to embark on a Social Media strategy). Today, eMarketer had the news item, What Makes Social Media Trustworthy? Here’s the gist of it: "A study of frequent social media users by market research firm Invoke Solutions found that the most trusted information was posted by people respondents knew. But blog posts were more likely to be trusted ‘completely’ than posts on Facebook, and trust dropped off sharply when it came to Twitter, even among friends. Postings by brands or companies were trusted less, but levels were similar whether companies posted to Facebook or blogs. Online community sites did not hold the same trustworthiness as Facebook or blogs, whether postings were made by companies or fellow members, and respondents had an even more skeptical eye for independent bloggers. And across all categories of content creator, Twitter streams were trusted less than other media."

We have a long way to go (just click over and look at those stats).

It’s not that the people creating Social Media content are not trustworthy. It’s the channel that people don’t trust (yet). The media channel is so new that people don’t trust it (fully). They’re skeptical (and it’s not just because every other day there’s another tweet stream about some celebrity that’s dead… even though they’re still alive). Things like this take time. Do we trust everything we see on TV or read in a magazine? Now layer that fear over a brand new media with no regulation and with content that is – and can be – created by just about anybody.

This is going to take time and things are not going to slow down.

eMarketer had another news item that AdWeek reported on titled, Social Net Growth: No End in Sight. "The number of people visiting social networks on a monthly basis in the U.S. will reach 127 million, or about 57 percent of all domestic Internet users, by the end of 2010, a 16 percent increase over 2009. By 2014, two-thirds (65.8 percent) of U.S. Internet users will be regular visitors to social networks, the firm reported." Social Media is big. Social Media is getting bigger. Social Media is showing no signs of a slowdown… but…

The pending Social Media bubble burst is bound to happen (they always do).

There will come a time (some time soon) when Facebook won’t be adding users that fast (in fact, some may be going some place else). There will come a time (some time soon) when everybody won’t be broadcasting every thought to everybody in 140 characters on Twitter. So, yes, Social Media will not be the latest and greatest shiny object, but it will transcend and transform. It will become a trusted media source and outlet. We’re going to learn how to better edit and aggregate the content. We’re going to understand who to trust (and who is on the take).

We’re going to get much better at this. Consumers are going to trust it more and more. Don’t you think? 


  1. Knew it was a trick question when I clicked the link, Mitch 🙂 People trust the messenger, not necessarily the medium, so surveys like this are always a bit dodgy IMHO.
    Like the thoughtful take on it, though. And yes, I see a bit of bubble bursting happening already among some of my colleagues who have been “socialised” for a long time.
    By the way, really enjoying the revivified Across the Sound, and Media Hacks. Learning through raucous dialogue is the best, most entertaining way to learn.

  2. Can we really compare FB and a blog ? Adding the “completely” and the “somewhat” we get 64% of “trust” for each…
    The first week of July, The Economist published a small article called “The evolving blogosphere: An empire gives away”. Basically it points to the rise of Facebook as a publishing platform and the stagnation/decline of blogs worldwide. The survival of blogs seem to be for very specialized niches…
    As for e-marketer it would be interesting to follow the trend. I voluntarily kept Twitter out of the “trust” picture because for lengthy articles or point-of-view, it serves to bring the readers to your “specialized” FB Page or your blog. As Simon says, people trust the messenger and will trust the content on whatever platform he/she chooses.
    Even if people don’t totally trust the channel, having 64% of a fast-growing population trusting “my” posts (Blog or FB) makes for large increase of readers/customers that do trust!

  3. Are we trusting the medium, the message or the messenger?
    And is there varying degrees in relation to those three?
    I’m a facebook whore, that’s where I spend most of my online social time.
    If a friend or someone in my network posts something that interests me a check it out no questions asked.
    facebook’s super targeted ads also have made me click ads more than any other online ad medium i’ve ever experienced. Come to think of it I don’t think i’ve ever clicked on a google ad.
    I relation to signal to noise ratio’s…I think people will learn over time what’s twwet worthy and become natural filters of good info and news.
    Maybe we’ll see a new trend emerge spawned by the facebook like button. As people come to realize the news and topics their friends “like” they’ll go out of their way to find more great stuff.
    So for people creating stuff it would in turn encourage the to create great stuff. Because everyone likes to be that guy who was the first to find and share something great with their friends.

  4. I think that people do trust one another, but they still have a hard time trusting the media. I bet you would see similar results if you asked the general population if they trust journalists and then asked them if they trust newspapers. I trust my online connections, but I don’t often trust everything I read that they publish… confused? I am.

  5. The rise of Facebook vs. Blogs is a mass media construct. They’re looking at raw data. They’re following the latest shiny object. I think metrics like engagement, loyalty and trust may be more valuable than Blogs are dying because more and more people are adding JLo as their friend on Facebook.
    Lastly, 64% of people sort of trusting this Blog? I don’t think those numbers are impressive.

  6. This is the current transition we’re in. It’s going to take some time to figure this all out, get a level of comfort and build some significant trust where individuals can know when/where/who to turn to for trusted information.

  7. Mitch, your personal brand defies the findings in those studies. It’s because of well thought out, written articles like the foregoing, that add value to marketers like me, that I read your stuff religiously.
    Cheers to you.

  8. I think it’s quite something to even ask someone if they “trust social media”. Can you really “trust a thing”?
    Social media is simply another outlet for both – trustworthy and untrustworthy – folks to discuss whatever it is that they want to discuss. The “mainstreaming” of social media simply offers two things: 1/ another avenue for communications – whether you are an individual or a company; and 2/ a venue for people to meet, connect, reconnect and expand their connections to one another – new connections, current, and old.
    All that to say that asking someone whether or not they “trust” social media is a strange question. I would ask “do you trust those who communicate via social media?”. I would then suggest that if you don’t, you should disconnect from those people since in social media you are given that option.
    I think, however, that there is some human nature thing that innately makes us follow those people we don’t trust – for some reason, humans seem to like the drama – like a train wreck you can’t pull your eyes from. I don’t think we all believe the “drama” and the stories, but we’re suckered in. Look at the rise of “reality TV”. Surely, the trust level for THAT medium is low?
    If the “trust” in these survey questions refers to the trust for security and privacy about the exchange of personal information, that is a different type of trust. And might be differently positioned.

  9. Ahh, some good, old-fashioned Social Media rubber necking… I hear ya.
    It’s interesting that the conversation has shifted to: do we trust the media or the people who create the content within it?
    I’ve always thought that I trust TV, newspapers and magazines, but I’m not trustworthy of everyone creating content within it. That being said, even trust in the channel must be earned by demonstrated quality and this takes time.

  10. Mitch- Great post… Do you prefer “long winded” comments or short and two the point?
    In my industry, the “Job Boards” (Dice, Monster, Career Builder, Hot Jobs, etc) were supposed to be the “next best thing”, BUT we realized in my industry that the consumer preferred “niche” sites… which is a good example of what your discussing here (SM evolving)

  11. I prefer comments where people add value and extend the conversation. So length is not important (there’s a joke in there somewhere).
    I think the evolution is everywhere because it’s a revolution – and as more niche sites start discovering a large enough segment, it will make the more general sites change their ways/adapt. That being said, it seems like portals still have life in them and that people do like to flock to areans where others are.
    We’re on the cusp of redefining the concept of “critical mass” and what that means.

  12. “The pending Social Media bubble burst is bound to happen (they always do).”
    I’m hearing a lot of folks say that. I’m not going to disagree, but I’ll believe it when I see it. The Internet is still so new, especially Web 2.0. Our present interaction with it is unsustainable. The very fragility of the medium suggests it won’t exist more than a few decades. It would take little to disengage the vital databases in the case of another world war, which seems likely. Nobody talks about this (especially those whose livelihood consists in it) but it’s definitely something to consider. Providing this doesn’t happen, careers will still be lost when the bubble bursts.
    Trying to conceive of a time when microblogging services become mundane is quite difficult indeed.

  13. No you’re right. I guess it all gets mundane eventually. Question is, what’s going to happen? Technology companies are thriving right now because of the Web’s newness. Businesses are either growing or diminishing. Successes like Facebook and Google might eventually level off, and head down hill. If the shininess wears off, that seems inevitable. But at the same time, watching technology companies plummet seems inconceivable. How do you reconcile this?
    I think the following decades are going to be very interesting. There’s nothing in history that matches the Internet, so there’s nothing to compare it to. I don’t have a clue where we’re headed. Kind of scary.

  14. I don’t think the growth is due to the newsness of it. I think the growth is do to how it changes us and what it does. We have a new media channel to connect, share and understand. It’s going to be more about how this integrates with what we currently have and how that changes/adapts.

  15. Lack of trust in this channel is not a bad thing. If we were smart the skepticism would remain. Unlike magazines and newspaper (or even wikipedia) it lacks accountability for accurate content and fact checking. Frankly, the idea of increased reliance on social media as a means of getting news is worrisome in some ways. I suppose, though, the same can be said for the Internet at large and we seemed to have largely lost our skepticism of information sites. I guess we’ll come to trust social media more than we should, too.

  16. Interesting subject. Re Trust — I find it tends to be given initially, but sure can be lost easily. I think to even ask the question can Social Media be trusted is so naive that it can only be posed because of Social Media’s newness. Anyway I know a number of earnest idiots. They may well be honest about their ideas and beliefs, but knowing the source I cannot say I take them very seriously.

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