With attractive bar patrons serving as undercover buzz agents for liquor firms, friends chatting us up about certain products or forwarding online recommendations so as to earn a few extra dollars from the companies that enlisted them as paid advocates, and email scammers co-opting the logos and web designs of previously trusted companies, who can you trust anymore?  Case in point - if amazon.co.uk hadn't run their algorithms and put my past purchasing behavior to work in creating their targeted email promotional messages, I probably wouldn't have just ordered a couple new cyberpunk books by authors I had never heard of. Who says advertising no longer works? Yet, of late, I have begun receiving email messages from amazon regarding purchases I had never made, which turned out not to have been sent by amazon at all, but were likely part of an online phishing scheme. Quickly jettisoned to my spam box, will I ever again regard legitimate emails from amazon without a bit of trepidation as to their legitimacy? Without a clearly identifiable and relevant 'subject' line, probably not.

These musings are just a lead-in to the results of a new study carried out by market research firm Invoke Solutions on 'what makes social media trustworthy?' and which was just summarized at eMarketer.com.  Bearing in mind that as the study looked solely at US 'frequent social media users,' and thus pertains only to 5% of the world's total population, the results nonetheless conform to all I wrote about trust in Connecting With Consumers.  As illustrated in eMarketer's table, when it comes to information sources most likely to be trusted by consumers on social media, blog posts by 'people we know' - friends, relatives, and other online peers - emerged as most trustworthy, along with friends who post on Facebook (with the former more likely to be 'completely trusted' than the latter).  Interestingly, both blogs by friends and posts on Facebook emerged as much more trustworthy than friends' posts on Twitter, with brand, product, or company fairing much worse in terms of credibility, albeit within the comme si, comme ca range.  Scoring highest on the 'don't trust at all' rating were independent bloggers' Twitter streams.  No surprise there - who are these weird people who keep revealing their mundane thoughts and petty behaviors to us? Personally speaking, I think I'd put more faith in an intercom announcement about how much longer my plane will be delayed.

So, clearly, consumer companies have a long way to go before consumers are ready to swallow their apparently non-promotional connected marketing messages on social network sites.  As Josh Bernoff and Charlene Li revealed in their 2008 book Groundswell, American consumers held relatively decent levels of trust for corporate messages through other media channels, yet still faring poorly compared to WOM received from friends or acquaintances who had experience with the recommended offering.


Returning to the Invoke Solutions study, some additional insight about trust comes from the participants' views on the factors that are important in making social sites trustworthy.  Scoring highest here were, in order, (1) keeping the dialogue open to both positive and negative comments (are you listening Nestle?), (2) quality of the comments and content, and (3) responsiveness of the content creator.  You would have to think that once companies start to incorporate these features into their social media channels, the more likely they'll be capturing consumers' trust.