Social media trust falls to historic lows- where from here for brands?

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In the ten years since his brainchild was launched there have been very few occasions when I’ve said ‘Mark Zuckerberg is on the back foot’. This is one of those moments.

According to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer, which gauges the public’s faith in business, government, NGOs, and the media, over the last 12 months our belief in journalism has jumped two points. Meanwhile, our view of ‘platforms’ as credible— which include social media and Google search— has fallen, along with trust in ‘a person like yourself’; i.e. a source of information on social.

Fake news is unarguably the major factor at play here. One example is Facebook being called to question over the involvement of Russian troll farms in international democratic processes. Here in the UK, the problem is treated so seriously the government just announced a new Fake News Unit to root out and bring those responsible to justice.

Sticking with Facebook, the world’s number one social platform, the official response to issues of trust has been significant. It’s own investigation into Russian influences has been broadened, warnings are now issued when independent fact checkers contradict a story, and users are asked to feedback on source reliability— outlets with positive ‘reviews’ will be prioritised.

Most significant of all is a change to the News Feed algorithm which means the focus is back on posts from individuals, rather than company pages. Read our study on how much this will impact brands here.

The latter is supposedly an attempt to get back to the roots of the platform, but I feel it’s a little too coincidental that this has happened at a time when ‘Facebook the news source’ seems to have spun well out of its own control. False reports are far less damaging when most people will never see them.

The issue of trust goes well beyond fabricated or misleading stories, too. As we reported in 2016, Facebook Insights were found to overstate the reach of Pages by up to 55%, while video view completions may have been understated. In short, the data on which every business on the network relies has been well out. Reporting of such a low standard is simply unacceptable.

Google isn’t fairing much better, either. In July, the EU fined the search giant €2.4billion for breaking competition rules. And YouTube, which it owns, is at the centre of its own furore regarding the placement of advertisements next to extremist and offensive clips.

Twitter has become a notorious playground for bullying, with critics accusing powers that be of doing little to stop the problem. And studies have shown the visual big guns— Snapchat and Instagram— are having a detrimental impact on our mental health.

Put all that together and what do you have? Clearly, I would never say that social media should be avoided at all costs— one look at activity on my own Twitter handle, or Smoking Gun’s, is enough to prove how much we still love these platforms. But it does mean the honeymoon period is definitely over, and the public are increasingly wary of harmful elements that sadly come with all networks.

When it comes to trust it’s likely Facebook et al will struggle to fully recover, which will be a major bonus to more traditional sources of information, as we show in our recent report on earned media. As such harnessing the power of the press through PR and comms is only set to become more lucrative as the public looks to who, and what, they still have faith in for news, comment, and current affairs.

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