Does Social Media Make You Less Trustful?

Do you trust your friends and colleagues to be creditable sources of information about a company? If so, you’re in the minority. According to Edelman’s 2010 Trust Barometer, the number of people who do is 25 percent — a big dip from the 45 percent polled in 2008. What happened?

Social media and PR gaffes may be what happened, says a PRNewser article at Mediabistro. When users of Twitter and Facebook add friends and followers, and then add some more, they have more names and faces but shallower relationships. It makes more sense to trust people you know well rather than a superficial relationship, or a person you know only as an avatar.

Or maybe that social media user is learning more than they wanted, and realizing that infamous tweet or post is coming from a marketer rather than a friend. Pushing your PR message too loudly or too hard can turn away the audience you seek. Users on the Web don’t want to feel they are being sold something, or being taken advantage of. And once you lose that trust online, it’s a long and hard process to earn it back.

But if you have it, then you are doing well. In contrast to Edelman’s study, Nielsen Online says consumers trust personal acquaintances and┬áconsumer online opinions┬áthe most (perhaps because they seem more genuine and sincere, and not just PR flak, says Pete Blackshaw of Advertising Age). Measuring trust can be tricky, as these two different studies show; but earning trust can be done by listening to your audience as much as engaging them. Doing so creates a win-win situation for everyone.

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5 Responses to Does Social Media Make You Less Trustful?

  1. dsmith says:

    Great post. I couldn’t agree more that so many companies on Twitter and Facebook talk at their audience rather than talking to and engaging with their audience. As we talked about during our social media discussion in class, it is key to understand your audience’s interests and disseminating content accordingly that they would find useful. If you ignore your audience’s opinions, attitudes and interests, you will lose their trust and time. I agree with your statement that pushing your PR message too loudly or too hard will turn away the audience you seek. I witness so many organizations on Twitter doing just that.

  2. tburns says:

    This growing trust in the word of your peers is such an odd concept to me…Now to clarify, when I say “peers,” I don’t just mean your friends and family members. In a lot of my classes we have discussed people going to the Internet to get reviews on companies or places and trusting the comment left by Joe from two towns over to really be representative of the new restaurant in town’s service.

    I cannot picture trusting the word of people outside my circle. The people I engage with everyday know my likes, dislikes, expectations and preferences. From this knowledge, they can give me a good review on a new movie or on a new store. That is why I think Foursquare can be quite useful, because you can see what your personal friends and family think of a given location. I think social media (depending on how intimate you keep it) can be a great way to learn about new restaurants, shops, hotels, etc.

    However, if the sites you go on are very broad and you do not know everyone who is on them personally, I do not see how they can be consistently trustworthy or useful. Perhaps every so often they can, but you cannot rely on “every so often.” Just logically thinking, a stranger who has never met me before does not have the ability to tell me that my personal taste in food will be matched by the menu items on so-and-so’s restaurant.

    Not to mention, I enjoy trying new things and I think reverting to the comments from other people’s experiences can take the fun out of it sometimes.

  3. cnaughton says:

    As PR pros in training, I think we have an edge when it comes to trusting those we meet and follow through social media. I think all of us can tell the difference between PR and marketing on Twitter with only a few tweet. We also know how to use the tools for good PR and not just marketing.

    Unfortunately, some companies have yet to fully understand how to broaden their reach through social media. Right now, most of these organizations may even be deterring followers with their tweets. Hopefully, that’s where we come in. After all, as college students we’re social media pros, right?

  4. kwashburn says:

    I see the viewpoint that having a lot more following on a social media site can give the impression that you have a more shallow relationship, and it is not as personal. I personally don’t not trust a company or person for this reason though. In fact, I feel like I’m on the other side of the spectrum. I think having a greater following makes you more credible in the sense that a lot of people are on the same bandwagon. It is human nature to believe what others do, and if other people are trusting something it is likely that you will too.

  5. aweiler says:

    I see how many followers can potentially harm your relationship with your audience but isn’t that the point? We are trying to reach as many people as possible in our target demographic. I feel like the more followers you have the better reputation you have. If hundreds or thousands of people trust and are interested in your brand, I feel like a strong relationship has been established.

    It also depends on what you are saying to your audience. If you are simply tweeting to tweet then it just comes out as noise rather than information. Many companies struggle with what they should be posting but that’s where having a public relations professional comes in handy.

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