Who do people trust? (It ain’t bloggers)

The question many marketers are trying to answer now, is “Who do people trust?”

I’ve been spending more and more time pouring over data, medium usage, behavioral and preference data for clients, and am learning more and more about how humans behave on the web.

So who do people trust? Three research studies indicate it’s peers, or people they know. And social clout from bloggers, or those with a lot of online friends ain’t it.

1) Forrester Research

What’s interesting is that colleague Josh Bernoff’s weekly post on who do people trust, indicates that people trust their peers the most, and bloggers last. Josh writes:

“What does this mean for your brand? It means that a focus on “influencers” is not enough. You never know who may be reviewing your product, or where. Influencers may touch a lot of people, but so do the masses of reviewers on Yelp, or Amazon.com, or TripAdvisor. And heaven forbid you get people talking about your brand on The Consumerist.”

If people trust the reviews of friend that they know and trust 14% more than your corporate website, what is your web marketing team doing to accommodate this? Are you spending 14% more effort to listen, learn, influence peer reviews? I’ll bet your not, as most brand marketers I know are spending time building microsites, and launching brochure ware on their sites, without think about the impacts of their corporate website becoming irrelevant.

2) Edelman Trust Barometer

How do you consume the content on Web Strategy by Jeremiah Owyang?

In a confirming correlation, Edelmen’s research from Steve Rubel indicates the exact same findings, despite different phrasing of the questions. Steve writes: “both marketers and publishers – continue to focus on reach, they are missing the big picture. Trust is by far a more important metric, one that clearly rules when it comes to influence.”

3) Pollara Research

Steve points to a third research report also validating this claim. Research firm Pollara found similar results:

“According to a new study from Canadian research firm Pollara, self-described social media users put far more trust in friends and family online than in popular bloggers, or strangers with 10,000 MySpace “friends.”

Of more than 1,100 adults polled in December, nearly 80% said they were very or somewhat more likely to consider buying products recommended by real-world friends and family, while only 23% reported being very or somewhat likely to consider a product pushed by “well-known bloggers.”

“This shows that popularity doesn’t always equate to credibility,” said Robert Hutton, executive vice president and general manager at Pollara. “Marketers might have to reconsider who the real influencers are out there.”

What you should do
Forward this post back to your marketing team, encourage the team to have an active and open dialog. Should you be focusing in on influencers only in your market space? Or should you start also focusing on ratings and review sites, where customers are critiquing, reading, and making decisions based on each others data.

So what’s this mean for me? Unless you know me, you’ll probably trust your friends or family far more than my opinion.

So how can I win your trust back? Lately, I’ve been starting to see the cracks in social media, and have started a tag on this blog called Challenges. Social media isn’t perfect, it’s new, and many people and brands are doing it wrong. It’s important to be objective and point out when it works and when it doesn’t.

Update: Am I looking in the rear view mirror? intersting audio podcast debating this post, listen in (around 20 minutes in)

  • Pierre dV

    I’m struck by the year-on-year variation in the Edelman Trust Barometer numbers. I’m no statistician, but there’s probably no significant difference in most of the categories given the large variances.

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  • http://eedious.blogspot.com friarminor

    All I do know is that trust isn’t built overnight and is the product of many a time checking and hacking away at the mangroves of personas that are supposed to be more difficult to assess given the lack or minimal face-to-face meetings among online participants.

    But surprise, in today’s highly-connected world, you can find out many things about a person if you know where and what to look for. It isn’t truth science but often times enough to measure transparency and consistency of lines and thoughts. Whether it leads to trust, it is still debatable but given the prevalent ‘cattle mentality’, better follow Buddha and rely on your own findings than just riding the tide.


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  • http://richardstacy.wordpress.com/ Richard Stacy

    Trust is moving from institutions to processes. Hence – I don’t trust bloggers (institutions) but I do trust blogging (process)as a way of giving me accurate information.

    This shift in the source of trust is one of the most important characteristics of the social media revolution.

  • http://www.strictlysocial.com Morgan Witt

    Great post. The data doesnt lie. A blogger may have a great digital reputation but thats where it ends. I may check something out that a blogger or “influencer” may recommend, this is true. But I would act much quicker to the purchase process if recommendation was made by a close friend or family member (inner circle).

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  • http://www.brickmarketing.com Brick Marketing

    I can def. feel the effects of this purchasing trend. Dealing directly with the consumer I can clearly see the trust issue taking effect. Clients really want to go the extra length and get to know you and your organization before signing on the dotted line.

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  • http://www.adamgershenbaum.wordpress.com Adam Gershenbaum

    That is why it is important to build sincere relationships with people. The people who are opinion leaders who create influence in a group will step up if they can sense your sincerity.

  • jb

    People matter. Always will. Especially the most trusted and respected people in your life.

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  • http://www.brandflow.com Markus Hübner

    Trust is the new currency in the evolving digital age / social environment. I do hope that marketeers / media planers and so on start to realize this. And brand monitoring in the social media resp. digital environment is a must, unfortunately still not put into practice by most companies.

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  • http://www.healthtalker.com Andy Levitt

    Great post, Jeremiah! You are spot on with your comments and insights here. So much energy is spent by marketers on finding the ‘key influencers’. But I would agree that it is the trusted relationships that are already in place that can have the most impact in people’s decisions. That is where the real influence exists.

    Thanks for organizing your argument so clearly, and with several data points of interest.

  • http://ajabgajab.blogspot.com dai


    Blogger are supposed to curse and they get digg!
    and if I write something what it has to do with if others buy it or not?

    Who cares?

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  • http://mint.com Damon Billian

    Interesting post. I think some of it will be largely be based on the relationship (real conversation) the blogger has with their community of readers & the level of disclosure that the blogger (or other community medium) does with their readers. I think some people, rightfully so, suspect that “other things” are going on behind the scenes to influence a blog post.

    Another point is that it is fairly well-known in the tech world that social media tools can be gamed to some degree…so I think tech folks might be a little bit more jaded in their opinions than your average person.

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  • https://www.verb.net.au Claire

    Thanks for this post… not only thought provoking, but really nice to see how many people reacted to your post! Just last night (before i read this) i wrote a post on my own blog, discussing the my minute viewpoint of whether to trust or not and how it is impacting my life and then in turn how is it going to affect my kids’ world…

  • http://www.verb.net.au Claire

    Sorry! For some reason my URL was wrong above… it’s http://www.verb.net.au

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  • http://www.thewayoftheweb.net Dan Thornton

    Is anyone really surprised that people tend to trust their families, and the friends they have chosen in real life (and therefore have strongest ties to), when they want opinions?

    Or that blogs don’t figure highly in the Edelman Trust Barometer of people 35-64? (I think that’s what the tiny text indicated!)

    Someone needs to be looking at the variation within online/offline close friends, acquintances, and bloggers who are read regularly, infrequently, have a large perceived spehere of influence, or have a readership of 5 etc…

    And it needs to be segregated by age and location.

    Meanwhile the Forrester report is from a Q3 2006 survey, and while I don’t think it will have been flipped on it’s head – I do think the figures will have changed since then.

  • Rob Gemmell

    Wow, I suspected the preference for opinions of people we trust, or at least know so we can calibrate accordingly, would be high but didn’t expect 80%+. Seems to me that Linkedin is leveraging this pretty well –I wonder who else is REALLY capitalizing on it

  • http://trustweb.blogspot.com/ Jon Reay

    Trusting individuals can be very difficult in the digital landscape. If you don’t know someone, reputation and credibility are not properties that can simply be claimed. Finding an objective measure of credibility would help people to assess trust in others they don’t know. Don’t underestimate the power of friends-of-friends though as a large trusted resource.

    As others have commented, credibility is different for different topics. An expert or credible source for web strategy may not be the same for cars, say.

    I think the need for trust in individuals online is growing, and it extends way beyond reviews of products and services – what about people selling good themselves? or claiming medical or legal expertise for example?

    I’ve got a blog that discusses trust in individuals online, and a prototype application that aims to expose people’s credibility in different areas. Take a look at http://trustweb.blogspot.com/ and http://www.knowbetween.com/

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  • http://www.raisinglaura.com Laura Ressurector

    I like this post and would like to add…

    I recently had a friend steer me really wrong on a contractor recommendation. Though most of us will trust friends, according to this blog entry, you go on to qualify that this person’s trust factor is high if that friend is like you. This one is definitely not! Sometimes I wonder why we’re friends since we agree on very little.

    Here’s some additional qualifiers I’d like to add:
    wrong, right? WRONG!
    -Has this friend had a lot of experience in the things he/she is recommending?
    -Is your friend in the loop as far as knowing people and their reputations (applies to people recommendations)?
    -Do you consider your friend to be a bright person?
    A “NO” to any of these questions is reason enough for you to search out recommendations elsewhere.

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  • http://www.recipe31.com Anthony Power

    Better late than never. :)

    It seems that ‘trust’ question parallels the ‘engagement’ question. Just what do we mean by those terms? (And if we can figure that out then maybe we can understand influence better. Disclosure – this is something we’re working on.)

    In this context trust could be considered a function of experience and relevance. My trust increases based on length of time I’ve known (or read) a resource, my frequency of interaction, and the willingness of the resource to help me. Trust also increases based on category and product expertise while being damped by the possibility of bias (ads?). The two concepts together make a powerful combination as it relates to influence.

    Interesting read and commentary!

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  • http://constructionblog.org Nigel

    the result surprised me