I just learned about an important casualty of society’s seemingly unlimited ability to communicate everyone’s thoughts and opinions. Apparently, after a few years of exposure to each others’ cyber-delivered insights and takes on the world, we have reached a conclusion: we don’t believe us.
The source of this revelation is the annual Trust Barometer derived from research by Edelman Public Relations. Since 2000, Edelman has conducted global research to find whom “informed publics ages 25-64” trust as sources of information. It was the Trust Barometer that discovered in 2006 that the “informed publics’” MOST trusted source of information was, for the first time ever, “people like me.” Not academics or industry experts. Not government officials, financial analysts or business executives. No; when it came time to get the news about stuff like business, consumer products and the economy, 68 percent of those surveyed said the source they found most credible was, well, each other.
Five years later, after absorbing billions of tweets, posts, comments, and whatever other gems of insight we can put on each other’s walls or in a blog exchange, we have rethought this credibility thing. Our assessment of each other’s credibility has tanked by a full 25 percentage points. Now, according to the Trust Barometer, only 43 percent of informed people say “people like me” have high credibility. To put that in perspective—that credibility rating is the same as the rating for government officials. That really hurts.
At the top of the 2011 credibility list are academics, industry technical experts, and industry analysts. Company CEOs come in at 50 percent, an impressive 19-point recovery over the past two years.
What does this mean for the PR profession? It’s probably a validation of what we have suspected even as we have seen social media content burgeon at a head-spinning rate. When it comes to the information people need to form or alter a belief or an attitude, there is no substitute for an authoritative, credentialed spokesperson. Tactically speaking, blog-seeding and conversation-joining are in a different league than connecting stakeholders and audiences with true expert sources of knowledge and perspective.