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)

143 Replies to “Who do people trust? (It ain’t bloggers)”

  1. I think this is spot on. When working with clients on building community, I’ve always stressed that we need to build a platform that allows reputation to manifest itself. Conversations (versus pontifications) certainly help achieve this goal. Trust is a byproduct, and it’s something you can’t buy.

    Contrary to what you may imply, you are trusted by many of your readers. You’ve earned this trust by being transparent, by being consistent, by slowly building a reputation, and by the multiple channels in which someone can learn about you. For example, I think an important aspect of Twitter is that it helps establish trust – it often provides a different, less formal, side to a person.

  2. I think that you are confusing two categories. Of course people don’t trust a generic category called ‘bloggers’ But they do trust people they ‘know’, and in these days of social networking ‘knowing’ someone may mean you have never met them in real life. But if a relationship of trust & authenticity has been developed between you & them, then they could trust a blogger.

  3. Jon, thanks. What’s a misfortune for me, is that I don’t get to know people as well as they get to know me, I’m missing out on a lot.

    Kate, Good observation. I’m just trying to make a point about where marketers should spend their efforts. Is it on ‘social media influencers’ or on ‘peer review’.

  4. That’s thought-provoking, for sure.

    The 82 percent for recommendation from a (real) friend is no surprise.

    Regarding the Forrester report I’m most surprised by the 69 percent trust in the info on a manufacturer’s website and the 75 percent trust following a review in a newspaper or on TV. That says a lot about the perceived Wild West nature of the internet.

    Of course, those results are now. Results from the Club Penguin generation, ten years hence, will be very different.

  5. Another great post Jeremiah.
    I think people (I like to call them people rather than users or customers) will trust less and less bloggers because brands are corrupting the natural meaning of blogs. Many people can perceive if behind a blog there is a brand to pilot or influence posts!
    Same problem with ratings and reviews. In theory they are a great way to show transparency from a brand, but brands should be bold enough to show on their corporate sites good and bad reviews! So, the question is: how many brands are brave enough to do so? And, don™t you think brands would be more inclined to influence reviews? Just few of the brands I know are really transparent about these tools, and one of these is Dell.

    Sometimes we struggle behind measurement and how to build trust, etc¦but if we start thinking to audiences as People, we might be surprised by the fact that people are US, and We DO trust our friends because we know them¦so, where™s the surprise?

    Maria Teresa

  6. Carlton thanks

    Good question, how do you think the club penguin generation will change things? Will we have an increase in virtual relationships in virtual worlds?

  7. I see Jeremiah, you hold the truth, but you are trying to get more out of the posts…clever 🙂


  8. Jeremiah

    I’m not a Second Lifer and am bored stiff by stuff like Grand Auto Theft IV, but my three kids love Club Penguin and this is their induction into a virtual world that they see as wholly normal.

    Extrapolate ten years and it’s patently clear that marketeers will need to change big-time, if they want to reach consumers.

    I edit a trade mag for the bicycle industry (BikeBiz.com). The marketing focus is still very much on traditional media but a number of innovator companies are reaching out with rich media – and a little bit of social media marketing – and doing very well with it.

  9. Interesting post Jeremiah!

    I think it is interesting to know WHY we trust our friends more than companies. I think this might be due to the fact that we don’t know the company (as stated in your post and several comments). We therefore refer to someone who does have a experience (knowledge) about the company.
    But now we are a company and we want to be trusted. What should we do? I think Maria was completely right with being transparent. When being transparent, a company might be able to generate trust through their visitors.

    The way a company presents their transparency is key I guess. I don’t think it should be through a corporate blog, but it should be in a very user-friendly format: short, simple, complete.

  10. Gerard

    You raised another interesting point, why people don’t trust companies?
    I think, it’s because they are perceived as corporate and un-personal entities that exist just to make money, or to steal people’s money.
    So, probably these companies should start get the shape of people, so not corporate but people that produce products and services…give a voice and a face to a brand and start talking as a group of people to other people?


  11. Jeremiah,

    I think it’s a little more complicated than that. For example I certainly trust your opinion on social media and marketing-related things, even if I don’t agree with you 100% of the time. 🙂 But that’s largely because I see you as someone who believes many of the things I believe about marketing and the direction it’s going in the digital space, and you have a proven record of posting insightful things that I find useful in thinking about this as well. So I would classify you as ‘someone with my interests’ before I would classify you as a blogger in this regard. Someone who shares my interests who happens to blog, if you will.

    Now if you were to suddenly start to offer advice on what video games to play this weekend I wouldn’t be interested, for several reasons. The first is that you’ve never really discussed video games before so I have no idea what your tastes are and if they coincide with my tastes. I have no record of your previous posts on video games (if any) and so I would probably scroll right past a post about gaming. In this regard, you’re a blogger first and a trusted source of information second – and I trust your opinion less because of the reasons above. Which isn’t so say that you couldn’t become a trusted source of information about video games if you posted about them often and I discovered you enjoyed strategy games as well – then I’d be paying attention.

    Furthermore I’d be able to engage you in dialogue about games to ask clarifications, tell you about my own experiences and make recommendations – in much the same way your readers here engage you in dialogue about marketing.

    I think this is a key piece of the puzzle that many old media people miss and you more than allude to it in your post. They see ‘influence’ as an extension of the old ‘circulation’ number and blogs as a just another form of old broadcast media, with ‘readership numbers, ‘technorati and google rankings’ and ‘hits per day’ as a way to measure that influence and the reach of the ‘story’ they’ve placed. It’s actually more than just going to Amazon to see who’s been reviewing your product and what they’re saying; it’s finding real conversations and taking part in them rather than just pitching a blogger and sitting back and relaxing when they post a link to your story, content that you have another piece of ‘coverage’ to paste onto your posterboard to show to your client/boss.

  12. Jason

    I agree, I wish I had more insight to how the questions about “do you trust blogs” were done. We need to see the context, as it could be broken down to:

    “do you trust bloggers with similar opinions, that you read frequently”


    “do you trust random blogs you stumble across”

    Perhaps the questions could even be posed a different way: “do you trust the opinions of bloggers?”

    And by the way, I don’t play video games anymore, it’s too consuming, but starcraft 2 is calling my name

  13. Totally agree about context – I think the Forrester report comes closest to being specific since it’s about reviews, whereas the Edelman barometer is simply about ‘trust.’ Trust to review a product objectively? Trust as a source of news? And to your point, it definitely doesn’t differentiate between a blog you might find or a blog you read every day. The blogs I read every day I read in a large part because I do trust them and they are reliable.

    If you end up getting Starcraft 2 we’ll have to play a game sometime. 🙂

  14. Maria, Jason,

    I think the key concept discussed here whether or not a source is credible. This makes credibility even more important than trust, since it then acts as a condition for trust. In the case of Jason comment: Jeremiah is in your eyes not credible enough in respect to gaming. In Maria’s comment: The companies are not credible enough because they have double agendas (talking smart to sell big, so talk is cheap in the minds of buyers)

    Credibility is a hard thing to achieve I guess, since it needs time to grow. In Jeremiah’s first post, he might not have been as credible for his readers as he is right now.
    In order to make a link back to the topic: In order to receive the trust you need, you should be able to enter a time-consuming process of gaining credibility on your field of work.

    So to answer (or trying to) the questions of Jeremiah: reading a blog frequently should automaticly increase credibility and thus trust (nice hypotheses for a research by the way, if it wasn’t for the time).
    Trusting a blog someone stumbles across is not due to the content I guess, but to credibility factor as: how large is the archive, how many readers does this blog have, how many participate in commenting etc.
    That also generates an answer to that final question: a person should trust the opinion of bloggers, IF they think of them as credible.

  15. Jason, Gerard

    We could also interpret that if your friend is someone that blogs, you likely trust them (regardless of the medium they choose).

    Some of my readers have become real life friends, (yes real world, I see them live!) and some become virtual friends, where we grow and trust each other.

    For those cases, I think it could likely fall into the first category of ‘trusting friends’ rather than a random blog.

  16. It seems trust is a core concept in the mind of marketers. But anyway, in reaction to your comment: that interpretation might be quite valid. I think you’ve underlined the statement in my post by saying ‘… and some become virtual friend, where we GROW and trust each other’. The growing part underlines that trust is generated to credibility and through time. It’s a continuous, time-consuming process and companies should be aware of this. The question for those who want to generate fast sales is how to find the best way to catalyze that process

  17. It’s a great post. And it’s spot-on. A blog is nothing more than the rants of a stranger. On the other hand, it’s the simplest, easiest, cheapest resources to use that can turn a community of faceless strangers into avid contacts, prospects, customers and fans. Why? Because it’s a tool for personal, real, authentic conversation…( Sorry for the cliches. Sometimes they’re true.) with lots of people. And that’s how you build trust with regular, consistent, true conversations. That’s how you build friends and peers and influence.

  18. Thanks for this post, Jeremiah. I look forward to hearing what you think–social media influencers or peer review. I suspect the right balance will be different for every brand. In my niche of membership and conference marketing in the association world, for example, peer review has been central since long before the Internet. It makes sense that it should remain central.

  19. I completely agree Jeremiah. In fact, this is the premise behind our new app Publish Social. We are going to make it easier for brands to publish what people are saying about them online. The tool will aggregate social content (most likely by tag) and bring it into a publishing environment, similar to a CMS, and make it easy to publish on the home page or anywhere else. There is nothing up yet, but check http://www.PublishSocial.com for a landing page soon.

  20. I think the problem is that some people associate “bloggers” with “probloggers” aka spammers that scrape content off others and use SEO to jack up their readership so that they can sell ad space on their blog.

    Most of those guys don’t give a crap what they write. They’re just trying to make money. It gives the rest of us who are doing it for free a bad name.

    I’d trust what I read on a blog without advertising pasted all over it over a spamblog.

  21. great, data-rich post Jeremiah.

    If that data is accurate, it suggests that the largest marketing ROI would come from engaging publishers with the highest ratio of personal friends/peers reading what they write. Begging the question, is that elite bloggers, review sites, or personal/long-tail bloggers?

    As an investor and participant in the space for some time, I think it’s the latter. Your article didn’t really distinguish between elite and long-tail bloggers, so I’d be interested to hear whether you feel review sites have a higher publisher:friend-reader ratio than long-tail bloggers.

  22. Excellent post. I think the key is, as others have pointed out, the difference between a real blogger – with street/online cred and a real opinion and position worth following, and a pseudo blog – created for brand positioning or other agendas. I think the tone of the blog quickly establishes itself to the reader.

    You mention that “Social media isn™t perfect, it™s new, and many people and brands are doing it wrong” What are some of the major sins being committed? Or is that another post topic?

  23. I’m wondering why bloggers were rated even lower than chat rooms/discussion boards. I would think that a person would “know” more about a blogger than a chat room/discussion board person. Has Forrester (or anyone else) delved into this negative perception of bloggers?

  24. I think the blogger trust level is very interesting. I wonder what it was say a year ago and how that will move in the next year. The amount of ‘pro bloggers’ raised by Aaron and then further discussed by Dan do bring the 30% into question as well.

    I think as blogs become more commercial they clearly risk losing their credibility which is no doubt part of the low ranking.

    Also, what would the results be like if the age groups of respondents were split out. I would expect few of the ‘older’ generation would even know what a blog is so the data surely needs to be applied to your target audience rather than just take a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

    Either way, great post and no doubt helps push the book as well!


  25. One should carefully interpret results of this study, because it does not take in consideration such factors as prior distribution of exposure to different media/sources of information. In other words, what you think is indication of “source trustworthiness” may be in fact simply reflectin of levels of “reach” of that source in general population. We communicate with our peers, friends and family everyday, and in various settings. “Word of mouth” has a reach of nearly 100%. TV has a penetration of nearly 95%. These sources are available and accessed by nearly everyone, so more people refer to them as to “most trustworthy” sources. Online blogs, on the other hand, are read by only 8% of US population (and only 11% of US Internet users). Chat rooms and discussion boards are used by merely 15% of Internet users. As a result, these sources were mentioned by less people.

    Now, I am not trying to defend blogs or social media. I am just poiting out that it is necessary to take in consideration prior distributions of these sources. Marketers often limit their research to simply reporting distributions, whereas one should also look at how variables of interest related to other factors. Reach and frequency is soooo analytics 1.0! Traditional media have been using these metrics for a long time, and now it looks like digital media now social media are repeating their mistake. Think in terms of niche-marketing: the most attractive segment is not the one that is bigger, but the one that is more likely to use your services. So I would like to see first how trust in each source is related to likelihood of purchasing product or services after seeing a review.

    Modern Metrix blog at http://www.mmx.typepad.com

  26. I think blogger trust will move up fast with the addition of video to many blogs. People will get used to the sight and voice of the blogger and trust them more.

    Also, I was asked as a blogger to interview the stars of a new TV show on TLC. Instead of traditional reporters, the producers asked real estate bloggers to do the interviews. If TV sees the power of bloggers over newspapers, the trust is building.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.


  29. 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.

  30. 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).

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

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

  34. 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.

  35. 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.

  36. fine!

    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?

  37. 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.

  38. 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…

  39. 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.

  40. 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

  41. 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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  43. 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.

  44. 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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