Research Shows Media Consumers Are Putting More Trust In Thought Leaders (And Less In Friends) Than Ever Before

This morning in Davos my employer, Edelman, unveiled the key findings of the 2011 Trust Barometer – an annual survey. There’s a lot to dig into here. However, I want to highlight three data points that underscore a critical theme that earlier we detailed in our 2011 digital trends deck.

The takeaway: to stand out in a very cluttered media world, organisations must increasingly activate their internal subject matter experts as thought leaders and do so across several spheres of media – traditional (WSJ, CNN, etc.), Internet upstarts (eg this site, Politico), corporate/owned platforms and social.

Let’s dig into the data.

First, over the last several years there’s been a decline in trust in “a person like myself.” It’s down four per cent in the last 12 months. Some 47% said they trust this group, which is down from 68% in 2006. An analysis: I believe the reason for this is that, as more of us join social networks, there’s been a devaluation in the entire concept of “friendship.” A separate survey found that people don’t know 20 per cent of their Facebook friends. Consider that “unfriend” was Oxford’s word of the year for 2009.

Second, the Trust Barometer revealed rising confidence in credentialed experts (70%, an increase of 8%). This is a trend that began last year. In addition, for the first time we looked at the credibility of technical specialists inside a company. Trust in this group is off the charts (64%).

This hits home the need to identify those with expertise inside a company who can engage across different channels, many of which today are digital – or will be soon. Note that this differs from trust in a regular employee, which is down to 34% from 42% in 2006.

Edelman, 2011.

Photo: Edelman, 2011.

Finally, our research team looked at what’s required to effect a behaviour change in a cluttered media world. It’s not pretty. 

The data found that informed publics (media consumers) need to hear things three to five times from just as many sources before it sinks in.

In the most developed countries like the US and UK it’s even higher – a staggering nine times or more. This means organisations must secure multiple impressions across a diverse array of media sources, some that we don’t control, others that we increasingly do. Advertising won’t cut it. It’s the least trusted form of communication, according to the study.

Edelman, 2011.

Photo: Edelman, 2011.

This year the takeaway is clear: trust in 2011 requires activating credible thought leaders who can not just talk but act (what we call Public Engagement) and do so across this “cloverleaf of media.”

Edelman, 2011.

Photo: Edelman, 2011.


This is post originally appeared on Steve Rubel’s blog.

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