Trust in social media is down, should we abandon it?

Trust in social media is down, should we abandon it?

For almost two decades the Edelman Trust Barometer has shown a decline in trust across all major institutions, with trust in peers and third-party experts high and growing.

Communicators have sought to leverage this peer-to-peer trust by having brand conversations in social media networks and it has been one of the key drivers to integrate social media into communications strategy.

There were of course organisations that did so effectively, where social was resourced and where the main game was to develop real relationships and be of service to customers.

However, there was also the rise of scripted, intrusive chatter and fake news, reviews and bot-driven communication, as well as automated marketing messages.

This year, although trust in third party experts remains high, trust in ‘people like us’ has declined and there is a serious lack of confidence in social media in all regions of the world.

The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer shows trust in social media at 41% globally, with drops across most Western countries from the previous year.

This has been driven by the high profile of fake news spread through social media and constant violations of customer data by the platforms.

And according to Edelman, 40% of people do not trust social media platforms to address fake news and hate speech; worse, 60% do not trust social media platforms to behave responsibly with their data.

As a result, there’s now a lot of talk about whether or not social media will survive.

Last year 40% of Edelman respondents said they had deleted at least one social media account.

This is difficult news for those in communication, many of whom are still struggling to get their organisations to take social seriously.

But I think that what we are seeing here is the maturing of social media.

Instead of spreading themselves thin, communicators have determined channels work best for their organisations. We all know that managing content and social media is time intense and so it’s important to focus energy in those places that work best.

I also think that the current environment will make it more, not less important, to invest in occupying the right strategic points of influence for the organisation.

What’s happening is:

  1. Platforms are under increasing pressure by governments, regulators and consumers to manage fake news and protect their privacy — if they don’t, their bottom lines will be impacted; and
  2. Sophisticated technologies are emerging on the market that can detect fake profiles, reviews and conversations in real time, enabling companies to manage impacts.

Combined, these should solve some of the problems that underpin the drop in trust.

Facebook, for example, has agreed to delete information that is potentially harmful, a complex task. Twitter has similarly started to delete accounts that sell fake followers or are fake accounts, but it has taken a long time and significant public pressure for them to act.

One product I have recently been shown (I have not yet used it) from Cyabra uses bespoke algorithms to identify real from fake avatars using sophisticated language analysis and digital footprints. Their program runs in the background and can alert an organisation in real time if fake avatars start to review or comment online, enabling organisations to manage any fallout from this type of behaviour. There are several similar products available and I think these will become an essential part of a marketing toolkit.

John Hagel says and I agree, that social media creates strategic influence points, which, amplified by network effects, are hard to shift once occupied.

Those who have taken the time, over time to establish social media are at an advantage because their history creates the right sort of legitimating digital footprint.

Organisations can and should be their own media channels, the go-to destination for customers on everything about the organisations.

Creating genuinely expert content shared through the right social media will grow your visibility and influence in local and global networks. However, building audiences who are interested in what you have to say and who trust you takes time and comes from continually committing to and delivering on the promise you make.

Like any successful and sustainable business strategy, it’s the long game.

Those who commit can create a significant strategic advantage for their organisations and themselves by being an identifiable, accessible and genuine authority.

For business, it’s an opportunity to create solid, useful content shared through earned and owned media channels including those of in-house experts.

That doesn’t eliminate the importance of traditional medias, which remain powerful and in some instances are gaining trust and growing — it’s an ecosystem with each part feeding the other.

But for all sorts of reasons you want to steer that as much as possible, to manage risk of course, but also to help the people you do business with by answering their questions.

Communicators need to take heed though of their reluctance to be burned in the process, Edelman showed:

  • 54% are uncomfortable with marketers tracking in-store purchases for targeting purposes
  • 39% say it should be illegal for a brand to buy personal information from another company the consumer does business with
  • 49% say they are not willing to sacrifice some of their data privacy in return for a more personalised shopping experience.

As Richard Edelman says,

Consumers don’t want to give up on social media— it has become a crucial partner in their lives. But they want a New Deal with the platforms.

I think it’s going to be even more important in the future to have established, identifiable social profiles with a reputation for solid, useful content.


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