Trust in 2012: 4 Implications for Social Media

Originally posted on Dave Fleet’s blog.

Edelman recently released the results of its 2012 Trust Barometer survey. Given the events of the last year, it’s hardly surprising that trust is decreasing pretty much across the board.

That is, except in Canada.

Results of the 2012 Canadian Trust Barometer

Today we announced the Canadian results of the Trust Barometer at an event in Toronto. A few highlights from the Canadian survey:

  • “A person like me” and regular employees both saw the biggest increase in trust in Canadian Barometer history. “A person like me” in particular has re-emerged as one of the four most trusted spokespeople behind academics and technical experts.
  • Trust in social media increased by 175 per cent in Canada, and trust in other online sources rose by 20 per cent. These increases are consistent – but larger – with those in the US.
  • CEOs are now the least credible spokespeople in Canada. While trust in business as an institution remained steady, business is not meeting the public’s expectations when it comes to building trust in companies.
  • Unlike in other countries, trust in media remains steady; in fact it was the only institution to see trust rise in the last year in Canada; possibly partly because the definition of “media” is changing and because the media is beginning to be seen as leaders in breaking news, rather than followers in reporting it.

Implications for Social Media

So what do this year’s results mean for companies in Canada, and those using social media in particular?

1. Transmedia storytelling is critical

The continuing rise of trust in social media and online sources is a clear signal that companies need to think beyond text when it comes to communicating. However, trust also increased in the Canadian media (and remains higher than other sources) – a signal that proclamations of the end of traditional media were very much premature.

Companies need to consider the complete media cloverleaf – traditional, owned, social and hybrid media, and to use them together effectively in order to communicate effectively.

2. Social media is not the end goal

While trust in social media has increased, and in Canada has more than doubled, it still lags well behind that of other sources. However, trust in “a person like me” is through the roof. There’s a dichotomy here, quite possibly because “social media” means different things to different people – plenty of people think of Twitter as a bunch of people talking about their lunch; I think of it as my industry peers discussing trends (and the occasional LOLcat).

The dichotomy of trust in social media means we can’t think of social for its own sake. Gaining new fans on your Facebook page, or followers of your Twitter account, won’t solve your business problems. Companies with a primary social goal of adding new fans/followers, or of gaining views on a video, are missing the point. To drop a cheesy line, it’s not the size of your community but what you do with it that counts.

3. Use social media as a conduit and a connector

If trust in social media, although on the rise, is still low, what does that mean for us? It means we need to think of it as a conduit rather than a destination.

Just as search engines are a conduit to useful information, social media is a conduit to connecting with other people – both those inside the company (e.g. regular employees) and to “people like you.” As a starting point, stop thinking about social media in the same way you think of traditional marketing campaigns, and start thinking in terms of bringing people together around a common interest. However, that’s just the beginning. What do you do with (and for) them? What do you enable from that point forward?

4. Enable and amplify advocacy

Experts and “people like me” are among the most trusted sources of information. One of the most interesting uses of social media is in enabling and amplifying the advocates of your company. Become the enabler – provide your organization’s fans with the information they need to speak in an informed way about the things they’re passionate about, and provide them with the opportunity to do so. The recent partnership between Bazaarvoice and Buddy Media is a great example of a key piece of this puzzle.

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