Who Do Your Customers Trust: Friends or Experts?

It’s all a matter of trust. Whether we’re talking social media or business, it’s about building relationships with potential customers so they trust us long enough to stick around and hear what we have to say. Because if they don’t, all that great content, interacting and marketing won’t help. Without trust, you have nothing.

With trust so important, everyone wants to know who people trust more. Who is it you want singing your company’s praises to make an impression? Is it a potential customer’s next-door neighbor, an authority figure, a celebrity? Recently, I stumbled upon on an eMarketer post that commented on two studies that seemed to offer conflicting answers to that question. I thought perhaps I’d dig into their numbers a bit to find the real story.

Study 1: GlobalWebIndex’s Annual 2011 Report

The first study mentioned by eMarketer was GlobalWebIndex’s 2011 report, which claims to have the most detailed set of data on your online audience ever. (So, take that, everyone else.)  According to their numbers, since 2009 users worldwide have reported:

  • 50 percent increase in their trust of social network contracts
  • 21 percent increase for microblog contacts
  • 16 percent increase for blogger contacts

Not bad, but probably what you’d expect given the date ranges, right? That study also showed that trust in traditional media like newspapers, television and radio has barely moved over the same time period. GlobalWebIndex states these numbers show the important synergy that exists between professional content and who it is that’s sharing that content.

While that’s true, I don’t think it paints a very clear picture of who your prime distributor is. It makes sense to see social media sites showing the highest “increases,” since they had the most to gain over the past couple of years. That doesn’t necessarily mean that’s where your audience is or that trust is growing for “people like us.”

Study 2: Edelman’s 2011 Trust Barometer Report

Edelman’s data provides an entirely different look at consumer trust than the one mentioned above. According to their research, it’s not “people like us” that we look toward for influence, but people smarter than us. Edelman’s data lists the most trustworthy folks as:

  • 70 percent: Academic or an expert
  • >64 percent: Technical expert
  • 50 percent: CEO
  • 43 percent: Person like you

Why are Edelmen’s numbers so skewed toward academic professionals? Well, because of the group polled. The respondents for the Trust Barometer study were not your average sampling of Internet users. Instead, they were college-educated consumers ages 25 to 64 , in the top 25 percent of household income relative to age group, who regularly follow business news and public policy. “People like them” are academic professors or field experts. Therefore it makes sense that those are the opinions they would seek out and trust.

So what are the takeaways for small business owners? Be wary of studies and do your own research to understand who your particular audience takes its cues from.

As a small business owner, you need to observe your own audience. Who are they conversing with? Who are they retweeting? What blogs/information sources do they read? Where do they get the information that they share? Do they ask Twitter for answers or do they ask Twitter for sources? These are their trust circles and how you’ll want to appeal to them.

Trust is essential to your business. That means both gaining trust yourself and understanding who your core audience trusts to help you market to them. You don’t need a fancy survey to tell you who that is. You just have to do your homework.

3 Comments ▼

Lisa Barone


Lisa Barone Lisa Barone is Vice President of Strategy at Overit, an Albany Web design and development firm where she serves on the senior staff overseeing the company’s marketing consulting, social media, and content divisions.

3 Reactions

  1. This is a tough question because who you trust can vary depending on the situation and the people involved.

    For example, if I want to go see a movie I would trust the opinion of friends with similar tastes over the opinion of my friends that have horrible movie taste. Some of my friends, simply by saying they loved a movie, tell me that I won’t like it.

    Also, expertise is fickle in the internet era because so many “experts” are self-made. They go around telling everyone they’re an expert until a few people believe them and it becomes this self-perpetuation myth.

  2. Great Post!! It took me a while to learn these principles in business. Building and sustaining quality relationships in business is the only way to go. Thanks!

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