You Can’t Trust Your Friends?

This is one of those stories that is so dripping with irony, you can’t help but love the social aspects of the web. Here’s how it started…

I’ve been researching trust as part of an ongoing effort to figure out how news/journalism can avoid becoming a commodity. Trust is a big part of that story, but a complex one when it comes to the web. It ranges from understanding domain authority, page rank, reviews, word-of-mouth, and so on.

The Start: People Don’t Trust Their Friends?

In my research I happened upon this headline story: In Age of Friending, Consumers Trust Their Friends Less. That was intriguing to say the least. Even better was the fact that it reflected recent research. The results were shocking:it seems that only 25% of people said they had credible friends and that number was down 45% in one year.

Twist: Can I Trust The Research?

The results were so surprising, that anyone would question them. And this is the wild, wild, web (www) so a bit of healthy skepticism is a necessary ingredient to any research. My first question was who did the research. It was Edelman. A well known firm, but not one that I personally know well. How did they do the research and were the raw questions/results available. No. Trust barometer (as they call it) was falling fast…

Turn: What Did The Readers Have To Say?

I noticed there were a lot of comments and was curious about their opinion on the research. Their opinion was all over the place: some not even surprised, some explained that our definition of “friend” had changed with the idea of “following” and “friending”, but what was most interesting was the discovery that Edelman were the people behind the Walmart Blogging Scam. Other readers pointed out other issues with the firms manipulative past.

Twist: Do I Trust The Readers?

Of course I couldn’t know if these comments were motivated by ill will towards the firm, so I had to check if what they were saying was true. I looked up the claims about the manipulative past and felt they were somewhat overstated, but on the whole quite accurate.

(Where To) Turn: I Don’t Know Who To Trust

One reader pointed to a recent study conducted by Nielsen that said the exact opposite: Consumers Trust Real Friends and Virtual Strangers the Most. In fact, 90 percent “trusted completely or somewhat recommendations from people they know”. Hold on a sec – “somewhat”? Is that trust?

Lesson: Be Careful Who You Trust

I’m still researching trust as a way to avoid being commoditized. I do believe it is important and I do have some concrete evidence that supports that belief. I’ve discovered some interesting things along the way and I’m still trying to figure out whether the decreasing trust in The New York Times is responsible for some of their current problems. But I’ve become even more skeptical of research, reports and claims by just about everyone.

The Happy Ending: The Social Aspects of the Web Can Build Trust

It didn’t take me long to figure out whether I could trust what these corporate researchers were saying. I had the readers to guide me. And while I couldn’t trust any one of them individually, together they raised the right questions and guided me to other sources to help me make a judgment. And we all lived happily ever after in the cloud.


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