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)