Edelman’s Trust Barometer 2008 – Social Media Rising; Word of Mouth Still King

This week I was lucky enough to attend the Canadian launch of Edelman’s Trust Barometer 2008 – Edelman’s ninth annual survey on trust and credibility.

Edelman Trust Barometer 2008The survey looked at the trust patterns of “opinion elites” in 18 countries – defined as people who:

  • Are college-educated
  • Report a household income in the top quartile of their country
  • Are interested and engaged with the media, business news, and policy affairs.

For the purpose of this post I’ll just refer to “people,” as the term “opinion elites” makes my stomach turn. That’s who I mean, though.

The event was fascinating and gave me a great insight into the report. At the same time I enjoyed some great conversations around my lunch table, including a substantial discussion on social media. Most people only seemed familiar with the buzzwords (they threw the term “blog strategy” around with alarming frequency) so I took the opportunity to do a little social media 101 education.

One notable addition to this year’s survey was the addition of 25-to-34-year-olds for the first time, alongside the usual 35-to-64-year-old group. This gave them a great opportunity to explore how much younger people trust modern online tools like blogs and social networks.

Social Media Take-Aways

A few interesting Internet-related points from the survey:

  • Social media tools are are making inroads, but are still less trusted than any other information source
    • Blogs: Trusted by 26% of 25-34 and 19% of 35-64-year-olds
    • Social networks: 25% and 20%
    • Video sharing sites: 25% and 19%
  • Younger people are more likely to talk online about about trusted and distrusted companies than older people
  • Wikipedia is the second most credible source for young Americans (behind business magazines)
    • Blogs, YouTube and social networks are still close to the bottom, higher only than corporate or product advertising
  • The growing influence of social media is reflected in the names the report gives to the different segments of “elites.” Despite the low trust still currently shown in social media tools, they label the largest segment “social networkers”:
    • Social Networkers (39% of “elites”)
      • Frequently share views on companies by word of mouth
      • Seeks company opinions from trusted sources
      • Want companies to listen
    • Social Activists (26%)
    • Solo Actors (11%)
    • Uninvolved (24%)
  • Bloggers aren’t seen as credible spokespeople – just 4% of people would trust them
    • However, bloggers can also fall into other trusted categories like academics, analysts or doctors, in which case their credibility rockets
  • Social media is more credible as a source of company information in Asian countries.

I’m torn on how to view the evidence here. People don’t seem to be able to decide whether online tools are the next best thing, or are not to be trusted. While the tools are among the least trusted sources, the report shows “social networkers” as the largest segment of influencers. I think the key part is that social media’s influence is rising.

(Note: I don’t have the full report yet; just a 20-page summary. I will hopefully have the full report this week – I will update this post as necessary. Apparently Canada is quite a way behind other countries – the report was launched in January)

Other Take-Aways

Some other interesting points:

  • “People like me” are still the most trusted sources of information for most people
  • Trust in the media is at a high point in many countries
    • The presenters speculated that this may be due to a growing definition of “the media”
  • Younger people show higher trust in business in nine of 12 countries
    • Canada joined Brazil and Germany as the exceptions
  • Trust in businesses, media and government is up but trust in NGOs is falling
    • Possibly because people are now treating NGOs more like businesses, with greater scrutiny and more pressure for business-like practices
  • Both age groups strongly trust word of mouth
  • When it comes to company spokespeople, regular employees are trusted almost twice as much as CEOs (45% compared to 25% in Canada; 23% in the U.S.)
  • Andrew Coyne, National Editor of Maclean’s Magazine, did more than just engage in some heated debate with other panel members. Some great points from him:
    • “Bad writing is essentially false writing because it’s lazy”
    • “We’re not in the business of selling you newspapers, we’re in the business of buying your time”
    • Admitting failure is a good thing and builds trust.

Action Points

Three main learning points from the presentations, none of which are rocket science:

  • Use top-down and peer-to-peer tactics in your communications strategies
  • Engage via word of mouth with influencers
  • Companies can become leaders by building their reputations and encouraging conversation.

Update: You can download the presentation slides here. (link fixed)

Have you read the report? What’s your take on it, or on the points above?

  • Very interesting stuff Dave! How are marketers who are bloggers viewed?

  • Good question Shama. From what I can see, the survey lumped marketers in with other ‘regular employee’ spokespeople. In North America, that means they’re trusted by about 43% of people. I would suspect, though, given the cynicism displayed towards advertising elsewhere in the report (it’s the least trusted source for young Americans, for example), it would be lower if you split it out. There’s no mention of agency staff in relation to client companies.

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  • Hi Dave – interesting post. I’m a bit surprised by what seems to be a very broad definition of ‘opinion elites,’ especially for those parts of the world where getting a college education is very common. Any thoughts?
    Also, I tried to download the slide presentation, but no luck.

  • Hi Nandy,

    Actually, I think there’s a case for widening the definition even more nowadays. With the way the web is developing, you don’t need to be a high roller to be an influencer. It’s quite ironic that “people like me” are most trusted, but that 3/4 of the population aren’t “just like” those surveyed (they just used the top 25% of earners, along with other criteria). In fact, that raises an interesting question – do lower earners trust the same people as higher earners?

    As far as the download goes, I think you need a slideshare account. I originally embedded the slides but they were too small on-screen to be legible. If you like, you can drop me an email at davefdavefleetcom and I’ll email them to you.

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    Great opportunity to be actualized on these things

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