Getting Bloggin’: Customers Trust Transparent Experts

Every year Edelman releases its Trust Barometer report (Executive Summary) to measure consumer confidence in business and, if we’re taking a cue from Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, identify the biggest ‘trust agents’ helping them to make their decisions. This year the findings are getting some people wondering about the overall impact on social media.

Social media has always “worked” because people trusted the advice and recommendations of people ‘like them’ over the cold marketing they were accustomed to. They trusted that their friends and people who valued the same things were better able to help them make decisions than the absent CEO or marketing department of a company. However, thanks to the flood of noise and the emergence of large, impersonal social networks, people are losing trust in social connections and those ‘like them’. Instead, they’re leaning more towards experts, with a strong rise in the transparent CEO.

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What these findings tell me is that the huge growth in social networks and “fake friending” have caused consumers to trust these circles less. Trusting your Facebook friends was a lot more certain when your network was made up of everyone you went to high school with. Now, we friend brands and people we just barely know in order to not appear “rude” and grow inflated friend networks. Naturally that’s going to corrupt the circle.

As a result, we’re looking more toward ‘experts’ to help us make decisions and, increasingly, toward the new CEO who has likely embraced the Social Web and become more open.

How do you take advantage of both of these?

You start blogging.

Blogging as a small business owner allows you to make yourself an expert in your field and also allows you to take advantage of the perks of being a transparent CEO. By allowing your customers to see inside your organization and what you’re about, you allow them to trust what you’re doing and become better acquainted with your brand. You bring them into your story and your every day. And that’s what customers are looking for. In the Executive Summary for the report, it’s noted that this year’s finding proved that trust and transparency are MORE important to corporate reputation than the quality of products and services. Yes. It is more important that you are open with customers than how well the product actually performs. Chew on that for a moment, will you?

If consumers are looking less at one another in order to build that trustthen it’s up to you as the small business owner to build it yourself by establishing yourself as an expert and letting people inside your organization. What better way to do that than with a blog?   If you need some blogging ideas, we can help you with that, too.

The survey does cast an interesting picture on social media, in general. If more and more users are becoming distrustful of the medium then it’s going to be interesting to see how this will affect the medium as a whole. Will review sites start to fall out of favor and become more suspect? Will people be less accepting of marketers in social media? Interesting implications all around.


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.

11 Reactions
  1. Interesting info Lisa, can you give us some examples of exactly how transparency fits into the picture?

  2. thanks for pointing out what I think many people are actually discovering but not necessarily verbalizing. i’m getting more and more distrustful of reviews I read in social media. Great work Lisa

  3. Not only can the CEO or SMB owner become an expert, but even in your circle of friends you can establish yourself as a subject expert. Personally, I have friends that I trust for movie recommendations and other friends that I trust to set me up with girls I’ll actually be compatible with. Each is an expert in a certain area. So in what areas would your friends say you’re the expert?

  4. I find we develop a great deal of business by providing free advice via blogs and emails. We get questions from customers and we answer honestly – often pointing them to competition when we feel someone else will solve their problem better. Trust is what we all want.

    Lisa I love the point that we no longer trust Facebook and other tools because we have watered them down – to often with self centered sales pitches. The tools still work – but many are just plain tired of how they are abused.

  5. Lisa,
    Great article, again.

    What’s interesting is that before social media, lots of people were transparent. Social media has just made that easier to show off.

    Speaking of transparency, in my own niche, franchising, I’ve started something that I’d like to share with the Small Business Trends community;

    Just trying to do my part 🙂

    The Franchise King

  6. Lisa – this is a great article and it is interesting to hear another perspective about social networking. Your point about how “fake friending” and the flood of a corporate presence could change social media reminds me of a story from a job I once had in a call center.
    Every morning I placed a sticky note on the computer screen of my top performers from the day before. I wrote personalized messages thanking them for their hard work. Just about everyone liked coming in to work to find a handwritten thank you waiting for them.
    It was so popular that the big boss decided to “corportize” this action. He now required every manager to write a minimum of three sticky notes each every day and place them on computers. All employees were to receive a sticky note. He even had special sticky note pads printed for the program.
    Now that everyone was getting a sticky note in the morning it soon lost its appeal and the representatives were more likely to complain about all the “trash” left in their cubicle.
    When “everyone is doing it” it just isnt as meaningful anymore and the interest is lost. The same could happen to social media?

  7. I think it’s interesting how much trust folks have in equity analysts. This is a group that was so discredited that the SEC blew the industry up after the dot comm bust. This shows how quickly trust can be gained or lost.

    My favorite story from those days was about an analyst who wrote a favorable stock review in exchange for his child getting a slot at a top pre-school.

    I’m also not sure about drawing broad implications from one year swings in this data. The consistent message from this survey across time is consumers most trust a combination of multiple sources.

  8. Hi Steve, I had to re-read the study closely a second time to understand your comment. At first I thought you were referring to Edelman as being stock analysts who were disgraced in the Dotcom bust (but of course, Edelman is a well-regarded PR firm, not Wall Street analysts).

    On closer reading, I see you are referring to the survey results that say people put trust in “stock or industry analyst reports.” But you know, “analysts” is a broad term. When I read that phrase what came to mind were “experts” in a more general sense — people like Kara Swisher or Walt Mossberg — and not so much the Wall Streeters.

    But I agree with you, our trust is easily given, isn’t it, when it comes cloaked in a company name that’s recognizable or seems “official”?

    — Anita

  9. Great post Lisa,
    While it can be scary to be transparent it paves the way for much higher levels of trust because consumers highly value authenticity. We have been blogging and vlogging for eight months so any potential customers can go back and see what we’re saying and get a sense of what they’re buying into.
    Consistency in blogging is hard but worth it. I had several attempts until we found that 1 vlog and 1 blog per week was manageable while running the business at the same time.

  10. Anita: I think you raise a really interesting point – the analyst industry is changing, blurring with the business press and other groups. This is changing what defines an analyst and/or an expert.

    I’m pretty sure this question was designed to measure the trust levels for traditional stock analysts (Wall Street sell side) and industry analysts (Forrester, Gartner, etc.).

    I’m very sure Edelmann did not think about the possibility that the respondents would include folks like Walt Mossberg or Kara Swisher in this category. In the PR and communications world, Mossberg and Swisher are journalists, not analysts.

    But as you point out, they are considered analysts by the rest of us. So are others – including you, for example:)- that probably would not have been considered analysts in the past.

    Interesting changes.


  11. Thanks for this thoughtful post, Lisa. I took your advice to heart for a recent blog post. We help business improve customer satisfaction by training their customer service reps and front-line managers. Our own customers often compare our type of training with other training delivery methods, so I decided to blog about the pros and cons of various methods…as openly and honestly as I could. Our customers are going to research these anyway, so why shouldn’t I build some goodwill by helping them out? Well see how the strategy works. Chec it out.