Consumers Trust Friends Less? I don't agree

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adage_edelman.jpgWith all due respect to Ad Age and Edelman, I feel the analysis of the Edelman Trust Barometer 2010 maybe a little misleading. The headline "In Age of Friending, Consumers Trust Their Friends Less" obviously implies that people are trusting their friends less when making decisions. While that makes great copy, when you click on the chart what you really see is that trust in all forms of media (the alternatives were TV News, Radio News, Newspapers and Friends/Peers) has dropped dramatically by approximately the same percentages. Trust in Friends/Peers hasn't dropped considerably more versus those other categories.

As we debate (again and again) the value of influence from friends and peers, lets keep two extremely important factors in mind. 

  • The subject being discussed makes a big difference. For example, I'm not going to trust my friends very much when I'm deciding whether to get open heart surgery. However, if I'm buying running shoes (as I did yesterday), advice from my friends will make all the difference. I'll of course be asking the friends who are runners for advice and not the ones who don't.

  • And secondly, lets not confuse trust in companies with trust in products and services. They are two separate categories (with of course connections to one another). This research was about trust in companies versus trust in products. As we talk about friending and trusting peers, it matters most with products that people have experienced and less so with the companies behind them.
This is the paragraph that I'm struggling with the most -

If consumers stop believing what their friends and the "average Joes" appearing in testimonials say about a product or company, the implications could be significant not just for marketers but for the social networks and word-of-mouth platforms selling themselves as solutions to communicating in a jaded world. The influence of peers has been considered the leading rationale for brands' shifting marketing dollars to social media.

If the coverage focused just on information about the company, then that would be fine. But  generalizing to products doesn't seem fair.

Disclaimers - I work for Razorfish and my company research shows that trust in peer recommendations around purchasing decisions is not dropping but rising. My analysis is also based on reading the Ad Age piece and the Edelman executive summary only. I do not have access to the whole research report

Follow me on Twitter (@shivsingh) for more insights on digital strategy and social media.


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