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Edelman’s Trust Barometer 2008 – Social Media Rising; Word of Mouth Still King

This week I was lucky enough to attend the Canadian launch of Edelman’s Trust Barometer 2008 – Edelman’s ninth annual survey on trust and credibility.

The survey looked at the trust patterns of “opinion elites” in 18 countries – defined as people who:

  • Are college-educated
  • Report a household income in the top quartile of their country
  • Are interested and engaged with the media, business news, and policy affairs.

For the purpose of this post I’ll just refer to “people,” as the term “opinion elites” makes my stomach turn. That’s who I mean, though.

The event was fascinating and gave me a great insight into the report. At the same time I enjoyed some great conversations around my lunch table, including a substantial discussion on social media. Most people only seemed familiar with the buzzwords (they threw the term “blog strategy” around with alarming frequency) so I took the opportunity to do a little social media 101 education.

One notable addition to this year’s survey was the addition of 25-to-34-year-olds for the first time, alongside the usual 35-to-64-year-old group. This gave them a great opportunity to explore how much younger people trust modern online tools like blogs and social networks.

Social Media Take-Aways

A few interesting Internet-related points from the survey:

  • Social media tools are are making inroads, but are still less trusted than any other information source
    • Blogs: Trusted by 26% of 25-34 and 19% of 35-64-year-olds
    • Social networks: 25% and 20%
    • Video sharing sites: 25% and 19%
  • Younger people are more likely to talk online about about trusted and distrusted companies than older people
  • Wikipedia is the second most credible source for young Americans (behind business magazines)
    • Blogs, YouTube and social networks are still close to the bottom, higher only than corporate or product advertising
  • The growing influence of social media is reflected in the names the
    report gives to the different segments of “elites.” Despite the low
    trust still currently shown in social media tools, they label the
    largest segment “social networkers”:
    • Social Networkers (39% of “elites”)
      • Frequently share views on companies by word of mouth
      • Seeks company opinions from trusted sources
      • Want companies to listen
    • Social Activists (26%)
    • Solo Actors (11%)
    • Uninvolved (24%)
  • Bloggers aren’t seen as credible spokespeople – just 4% of people would trust them
    • However, bloggers can also fall into other trusted categories
      like academics, analysts or doctors, in which case their credibility
  • Social media is more credible as a source of company information in Asian countries.

I’m torn on how to view the evidence here. People don’t seem to be
able to decide whether online tools are the next best thing, or are not
to be trusted. While the tools are among the least trusted sources, the
report shows “social networkers” as the largest segment of influencers.
I think the key part is that social media’s influence is rising.

(Note: I don’t have the full report yet; just a 20-page summary. I
will hopefully have the full report this week – I will update this post
as necessary. Apparently Canada is quite a way behind other countries –
the report was launched in January.

Other Take-Aways

Some other interesting points:

  • “People like me” are still the most trusted sources of information for most people
  • Trust in the media is at a high point in many countries
    • The presenters speculated that this may be due to a growing definition of “the media”
  • Younger people show higher trust in business in nine of 12 countries
    • Canada joined Brazil and Germany as the exceptions
  • Trust in businesses, media and government is up but trust in NGOs is falling
    • Possibly because people are now treating NGOs more like
      businesses, with greater scrutiny and more pressure for business-like
  • Both age groups strongly trust word of mouth
  • When it comes to company spokespeople, regular employees are trusted
    almost twice as much as CEOs (45% compared to 25% in Canada; 23% in the
  • Andrew Coyne, National Editor of Maclean’s Magazine, did
    more than just engage in some heated debate with other panel members.
    Some great points from him:

    • “Bad writing is essentially false writing because it’s lazy”
    • “We’re not in the business of selling you newspapers, we’re in the business of buying your time”
    • Admitting failure is a good thing and builds trust.

Action Points

Three main learning points from the presentations, none of which are rocket science:

  • Use top-down and peer-to-peer tactics in your communications strategies
  • Engage via word of mouth with influencers
  • Companies can become leaders by building their reputations and encouraging conversation.

You can download the presentation slides here.

Have you read the report? What’s your take on it, or on the points above?

One Comment

  1. E-consultancy
    E-consultancy March 13, 2008

    It’s interesting that “People like me” are still the most trusted sources of information for most people.”
    With regards to engaging with influencers, identifying the connected influentials can be problematic. Duncan Watts’ recent Fast Company article would suggest mass marketing is still crucial because you don’t know which consumers could turn out to be your “influentials”. In fact, the power of word of mouth lies in how the message is delivered, rather than who it’s delivered by (i.e. the so-called influentials).
    CNET also recently published study of influentials:
    As for bloggers not being credible spokespeople, this very much depends on the type of product that is being marketed. Trust is essential but having a clear and relevant message is also of key importance.

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