February 15, 2010
More than one social media observer has taken their time to react to the latest Edelman Trust Barometer’s statistic that “people like me” has taken a tumble. What does it mean for EU communications?
For those confused by the first sentence, let me explain that for many people involved in the early days of social media, the Edelman Trust Barometer of 2006 provided an important validation – a statistic that they could brandish with people still getting to grips with the blogosphere … or still trying to avoid it. That was the year “a person like me” rose dramatically to become the most credible spokesperson for companies, surpassing doctors and academic experts for the first time.
As I blogged back in 2008, this offers important possibilities for the EU, which has its fair share of difficulties when it comes to getting its messages across via intermediaries such as the media and national governments, to say the least! Given that so many people benefit, in one way or another, from EC programmes, social media clearly opened a new channel.
Fast forward to 2010, and the figure has dropped.
“Trust in information from friends and peers, “people like me,” dropped by 20 points, from 47 to 27 percent ” – SIliconValleyWatcher
SVR sees this as ‘bad news, big time’ for a whole range of players, including my favourite (social media experts, left), so it can’t all be bad news.
The actual presentation of the report by Edelman is more nuanced (in fact, I couldn’t actually find SVR’s statistic in any of the videos):
The key points I got - both from Edelman themselves and a few other commentators (see Edelman's page for a helpful list) - are that:
- there has been a "substantial" drop in trust of traditional media (TV, radio, newspapers), but specialist media appear as trusted as ever
- this probably reflects the fact that "Credentialed experts" (business media and financial analysts) were the only sources of information where trust levels remained stable (they've always been near the top)
- so social and other online media appears to be "carving mindshare from traditional media"
Experts reign supreme
This leaves academics and experts the most trusted sources of information. As Richard Edelman points out, the financial cataclysms of the recent past has hit people's trust in all sources of content, so that:
"People are looking for expertise. ... academics, doctors, financial analysts, NGO heads ... people who have objectivity and expertise ... not CEOs or heads of government ... traditional authority sources cannot carry a story themselves"
As discussed in an FIR podcast last month, the 2010 results also resonate with last year's Trust Barometer, which apparently showed that people need to hear something 3-5 times before believing it. So if you can get your message out through different channels, people are both more likely to hear it, and more likely to believe it.
This tactic - what Edelman terms 'building a mosaic of trust' - is still as relevant to EU communications as it was when user-generated content first started getting traction with people five years ago.
So bring on Europe's experts
The recent drop in 'people like me' also has to be seen in the context of its recent surge upwards to top spot - as Shel Holtz said on FIR last month, peers are still important. What 'someone like you' says about a subject is still an important factor in whether you'll treat it seriously, it's just not as important as it was in the heydey of social media newness.
But if it's still important, then EU communications strategy remains way out of synch with where its priorities should be, because the EU is still hardly doing any social media at all. Unless you count one decent blogsite (not even mentioned on the Parliament's home page? How can that be?!) and a few Commission officials on Twitter and Facebook as a coherent social media strategy.
What I take out of the latest Trust Barometer is the emphasis on experts as a trustworthy source, coupled with the abovementioned potential of social media to bypass traditional channels.
Just consider how many of the people involved in EC programmes and policy developments are credentialed experts. A strategy that empowers and encourages these academics, policymakers, researchers and others to talk (offline and online) about what they do, and how and why the EU adds value in their field, has got to be a good idea.
So where are they? Like everyone else, they need motivation. And they're not getting any.Mathew Lowry