Consumers trust friends, news, promotional products less than they did in 2008

Everyone is talking about the 2010 Edelman Trust Trends study. According to the findings, consumers trust the advice of their peers 20% less than they did in 2008.

The conclusions?

1. Social media is rendered pointless. AdAge posits that the information gleaned from the study “[flies] in the face of social-media wisdom” because businesses’ use of social media is based on the assumption that consumers turn to personal relationships to help them make buying decisions.

2. The digital age has destroyed friendships. Jay Baer of Convince and Convert, while maintaining social media is not to blame for the trust decline, nevertheless concedes, “The pervasive time crunch that blankets us all has forced us to curtail face-to-face relationships in exchange for digital interaction.”

I can’t believe that, in 2010, a blogger would say that digital interaction is the enemy of face-to-face relationships.

–Today I am texting my friend A. to make plans to grab dinner after work.

–I recently connected with a woman on Twitter whom I would never have the chance to meet in “real” life. She invited me to the SXSW Interactive Atlanta meetup, which I attended Monday night in the flesh.

–At the meetup I met a man from One World Connects, a start-up that is integrating social media and face-to-face exchanges to build a worldwide modern-day chain letter that you can track online.

Show me someone who is using social media to avoid talking to other humans, and I’ll show you a hundred more who are doing the opposite.

But back to study, Baer deduces:

3. Institutions have made us paranoid. He writes:

In the last year, I’ve been lied to at various times by the President, Congress, my family, clients, Tiger Woods, Toyota, the Catholic Church, the local school board, and at least one Olson twin (but I can’t remember which). What this Edelman research demonstrates is that we’ve become a bunch of cynics, and who could blame us?

Baer’s conclusion, that companies should embrace veracity and come clean with their customers, is both right and necessary. However, I think truth-telling is an argument for a different day and doesn’t have much to do with the study at hand.

My interpretation of the study?

As other bloggers have pointed out, trust has not only dropped in the peer category, but in every category — television news, radio news, and print news — by the same amount, 20%. When I look at this data I see the inevitable results of a broadening world with ever-increasing access to information. I don’t believe paid online subscriptions to the New York Times or Atlanta Journal-Constitution will ever work — not because people aren’t willing to pay for information, but because people aren’t willing to limit their information to a single source.

I’ve been mocked for using Twitter as my main source for news, but actually I think it is one of the best ways to be informed. I have 200 friends working all day long to filter relevant information to me. Throughout the day in real time I ingest an assemblage of personal anecdotes, news articles, opinion pieces, photojournalism and videos — all of which contribute in various ways to my being an informed and critically thinking person.

When I read about the Edelman study, for example, I didn’t limit my knowledge of it to Convince and Convert. I also checked out AdAge and Going Social Now, to see what other bloggers’ takes on it were.

I’m all for hard journalism, but I do not believe that NPR or CNN can ever be completely objective and comprehensive. I would rather receive information from a thousand subjective, specialized sources.

Likewise, it’s not that I trust my coworker Sarah less than I did in 2008. It’s just that when she tells me I should take advantage of Dance 101’s half-off sale, I’m also listening to my friend Vanessa, who is texting me an invitation to tonight’s class at Dance 411. From there it only takes one search in Twitter to see what people around the city are saying about both studios.

With ever-increasing access to information, it only makes sense that you or I would consult several sources before making a purchasing decision.

The takeaway?

Instead of using this study to justify dropping off the face of the digital planet, use it as a jumping-off point for a discussion about integrated marketing. As Malcolm Gladwell told us ten years ago, consumers need to come into contact with a brand at multiple touchpoints before the brand sticks with them. (Remember Lester Wunderman’s Columbia Record Club?)

How does the knowledge that people trust every information source less than they did two years ago affect your strategies for social media, direct marketing, promotional products, and other brand touchpoints?

I’d love to hear your comments.

Marketing Coordinator



Thanks for your comment, Jay. It’s an honor. As usual, you make some excellent points. The sheer fact that people are talking about our dearth of human interaction gives me hope that we’re at a breaking point. I’ve noticed that face-to-face time is something we do intentionally now. My department, for example, has daily, mandatory brainstorms, where ideas always emerge that would not have come about via IM or email.

This kind of reaction combined with the emerging hyperlocal paradigm makes me think — hope — that the more digital and global we become, the more we will also seek out face-to-face conversations in local coffee shops.

Great post. The Edelman methodology was a bit flawed, as several other bloggers have chronicled. That’s why I chose to write mostly about the decline in trust across-the-board (which I believe), rather than AdAge’s completely stilted spin that trust in our friends was declining unilaterally.

Just for clarification, if you re-read my excerpt above, I said that the time crunch we’re under forces us to substitute digital for in-person relationships. I did not say digital was the cause, but rather our need as a society to do more all the time – to always be on – to always be working. As evidence, just look at the universally declining participation rates in service clubs, chambers of commerce, and churches. All of which require taking time out of your day to go and meet face-to-face.

Very few people are bigger fans of digital relationship-building (hopefully followed up with face-to-face) than I am. I’ve written about it extensively. But, there’s no question I don’t have time to go meet people for lunch the way I used to, and I don’t believe I’m alone in that scenario. Thus, digital relationships are what we’ve fallen back upon, and while they are less than ideal, I’ll take half a loaf at this point.

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