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Can Marketers Repair Social Media’s Crisis of Trust?

Lawrence A. Crosby and John P. Vidmar

Consumer trust in social media is declining due to foreign influence and disingenuous paid influencers. How can marketers foster trust on these channels?

Much of social media marketing’s glitter has worn off. Consumers increasingly turn to social media for product and service information, but they are quickly losing trust in the content they find there. The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer reports declining trust in social media, particularly in the U.S. This is traced to what the authors call a “crisis of trust,” namely, a loss of faith in institutions ranging from business to government to nongovernmental organizations. A major contributor, they believe, is the lack of objective facts and rational discourse in social media.

This crisis is not limited to the U.S. The U.K.’s Marketing Week identifies the reduction in trust in social media information as a “worrying trend” that is due, in part, to the behavior of marketers. According to this source, the loss of faith in online brand information is due to consumers’ increasing awareness of marketers’ tactics to reach them. Noteworthy are cases involving P&G and Mondelez, which had content banned by the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority for not making it clear that a blogger had been paid to promote products (known in some quarters as “cyber-shilling”). In Canada, the Globe & Mail reports that Advertising Standards Canada now requires influencers to clarify when they are being paid to post about products and services.

An interesting nuance of these trends is the strong distrust of social media among millennials. Digital Content Next refers to this audience as “social skeptics.” That observation is echoed by Sensei Media, which notes millennials’ strong preference for recommendations from real people and real friends, not brands or institutions. They characterize this as a shift from the “wisdom of the crowds” to word of mouth.

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Lawrence A. Crosby is the retired dean of the Drucker School of Management. He is the chief data scientist at the KH Moon Center for a Functioning Society, a part of the Drucker Institute at Claremont Graduate University.

John P. Vidmar, Ph.D. is the chair of Ipsos USA Public Affairs.