Tuesday, February 9, 2010

After the Hype - Does Trust Remain?

Heavy participation in social networks ignited enormous hype around the newfound economic value of relationships. Recognizing the advertising opportunity, companies attempted all manner of ways to pose as our trusted friends in order to sell products using the new venue of social media.

While the advertising industry itself, followed by the justice system, clamped down on the glaringly unethical and deceptive practices, many more clever and subtle social techniques are still employed.

There's nary a Facebook app that is not the social Web's version of Hollywood product placement. Not that this is necessarily bad. Like any other advertising, it will continue to be as long as there is a market for it - even though consumers gradually tune it out.

Which brings us to the real question. Is trust in relationships gone? Based on the 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer you might conclude "yes".

According to the survey, trust in information from friends and peers, “people like me,” dropped by 20 points, from 47 to 27 percent. That is a 42% drop in just two years.

To get to the bottom of it, let me ask - do you trust your friends and family 42% less? Do you trust 42% fewer of the people you trusted in 2008? If you answered "yes", then please call a psychologist now. It's crazy to accept this statistic as a measurement of trust among "real, trusted relationships".

The Edelman study merely points out that the rush of ad dollars and marketing resources into social media produced a fad - and fads don't last. It'd be wonderful to trust every person who recommended a surefire-make-money-now-from-home-scheme on Twitter; or to believe that every 20 year old named Bambi really wants to be your Facebook friend; or every headhunter with 20,000 LinkedIn connections just found a great career opportunity for you.

To see the ridiculousness of this statistic, you merely need to see if the converse is true. Ask local businesses, many of whom get 80+% of their new customers from referrals, if they are now getting close to half of that.

Bottom line - social media is another media. It can never fabricate trust. And it will never create friends - even though, when used well, it can help you build relationships.

And relationships is where the trust is - and will stay.

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