Last year we brought you coverage of Edelman’s Trust Barometer, a yearly report charting the public’s trust in the media, business, government and NGOs across 28 developed countries. 2017’s report, in the wake of Brexit and Trump, told us ‘peers’ (that is, people like us) were considered to be ‘just as credible as experts’. The people had spoken – and they were telling political pundits, news organisations and CEOs (plus just about anyone else) to take a hike. This year, the data tells a different story. From the 2018 Trust Barometer’s 2018 report:

“The credibility of “a person like yourself” — often a source of news and information on social media — dipped to an all-time low in the study’s history. Most likely, the falloff of trust in social and search, and of the credibility of peer communication, are contributing to the overall decline of trust in media.”

2017’s report told us the people were taking back the power from the institutions. Now, the people don’t even trust each other.

Just how bad is this?

It’s important to note that the measure we’re talking about here – the opinion of ‘a person like yourself’ – is still the third most trusted source of information.

Edelman Trust Barometer

It’s just taken a huge dip, and when something like that happens, it’s useful to explore why (and how businesses can make sure they’re not sucked up in it). Especially if you’re a company that believes more than anything that the real, unvarnished voice of the customer is the most powerful force in commerce (like we do).

Why has peer trust taken a hit?

To understand this year’s results, we need to remember their context. 2016 and 2017 were HUGE years for Joe Public. Empowered by social media, he became a superstar; an expert; an agent of political change. No longer would we have to listen to overpaid bureaucrats, CEOs or academic ‘experts’ – we had each other, and that’s all we needed.

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A cartoon from the New Yorker, December 27, 2016.

But it was also a period of infancy for many on social media – especially those in the older demographics. People trusted a lot of what they read, regardless of the source. This was exploited by what’s now known as the ‘fake news’ scandal – the deep reaches of which we probably won’t even know about for many years. At the same time, a new wave of influencers came in and made a stack of money promoting products on the sly. Then, they got found out. The UK Government cracked down and many social platforms changed their guidelines to make sure the ads actually look like ads. The public went from not trusting experts to not trusting anyone.

Analysing 2018’s savvier public

Fake news and data scandals have meant social media infants have had to grow up – fast. Generally we’re now a lot more aware of where our news comes from and where our personal information goes. People are more skeptical of what they see on social media – and they’re putting their trust back into traditional news publishers.

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Brands, for the most part, will ride this storm out (unless your brand is Facebook or Cambridge Analytica – then I’m not so sure). But it’s always important to learn from these things. Here’s what I think brands should start thinking about NOW so they don’t end up in a situation like this in the future.

Marina’s top tips for brands who don’t want to end up facing the US Senate

  • 1. Reintroduce yourself to the Big Names
    We all seem to have forgotten about those beautiful big old legacy brands like Which? or trusted publications and media platforms like Mumsnet or TrustedReviews. They might be a bit old-fashioned, and they might not have a pool table in their office, but they’ve got shedloads of credibility and dedicated readers who hang off their every word.
  • 2. Watch where your online advertising ends up
    We’ve all seen the boycotts of brands whose display advertising accidentally ends up on a far-right website or some other dark corner of the Internet. It might be time to reevaluate your online spend – you might be seeing some quick ROI, but what about the most important currency – your brand?
  • 3. Get behind a cause
    I get the feeling businesses shy away from this because it seems a bit tacky or needy to ask for sponsorship on your next half marathon. But a charitable partnership done well, on top of the obvious benefits, can actually be a great bit of branding. Think of a part of your sales process that’s currently a bit of a bottleneck. Would it speed up the journey if you made a charitable donation on a prospects behalf once they took the action you’re looking for?
  • 4. Invest when the price is low
    Joe Public might have taken a bit of a hit this year, but he’s not gone forever. We’re already starting to see the blame placed elsewhere (see the target on Zuck’s forehead) so it won’t be long before people again see their peers as trusted advisors.

The voice of the customer will always be powerful – but here’s the big lesson: Open platforms are fair game to anyone who wants to bend public sentiment to their will. If you’re going to invest in the voice of the customer, through reviews or user-generated content, invest in a UGC tool that gives YOUR customers a voice – not the trolls. It might be just another bit of software in your stack, but if you don’t settle for anything less than honesty and integrity from your supplier you can’t go too far wrong. For instance, at Reevoo, we only collect reviews from verified purchasers. Then real Reevoo humans pick out reviews that are malicious or irrelevant, and send them back to the reviewer to edit. We think that sets the blueprint on how to let people have a voice. Facebook – we’re waiting for your call!

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Peer trust is down, says Edelman...