edelman 300x152 In Social Media We Trust?Every year, for the past ten years, the PR firm Edelman has released a trust and credibility survey called the Edelman Trust Barometer.

This year’s was recently released, but with some interesting results: Mainly that the trust in global business has risen across the board. Something surprising was that trust in all forms of media went down.

When it comes to information about a company, stock or industry analysis reports topped the list for credibility at 49% while social media bottomed out second to last — only above corporate advertising — at 19%.

Social media is about the voice of the people, like you and I, to spread by word of mouth what we believe in — whether it has to do with a brand or not. But how did the numbers fare there? Trust in information from our peers dropped by three points, from 47% to 44%, but went up in all other areas including trust in information from government officials and CEOs.

Now, it’s not a shockingly steep fall in trusting our peers, but it really raised my eyebrow. Why, in this age of Twitter and word-of-mouth advertising, would we lose trust in one another?

Losing it

Social networking site membership has picked up dramatically, with 350 million active Facebook users and 15 million active Twitter users currently, it’s no fad. But at the same time, think of all the useless noise in those numbers. Spammers, phishers and all-around sketchy scammers have found new ways of reaching an audience.

It just seems like a natural progression from the early adopters to the mainstream. But is social media dead? Not at all, it just means that this is a time of adjustment. People will find their place and figure out how to filter their feeds to gain what they value the most.

trust me 300x204 In Social Media We Trust?Not only that, but take a look back at 2009 — foreclosures, bank failures, unemployment. Many unemployed turned to affiliate marketing and similar practices surrounded by skepticism to earn a living. Some even contributed to the pollution that many outlets on the Internet are facing. So, I’m not really surprised.

Keep your head up though, it seems that we’ve taken quite a bit away from our recent experiences.

For the first time ever, the survey showed that trust, honest practices and transparency topped the list of things we look for in corporate reputation while financial returns showed last. How did this change from the past? Well, back in 2006, before the financial crisis hit — and pre-Twitter — quality products and services, as well as strong financial performance, topped the list.

What does it mean to you?

If you’re a small — or large — business owner, step back and take a look at whether or not your social media strategy has worked for you. What’s the feedback like? Has it changed your bottom line? Maybe you should also consider a voice from higher up — your CEO, that is. According to the survey, information coming from a CEO went up in credibility nine points in the US, from 17% to 26%.

If you’re a consumer, find ways to filter out the noise. There are many tools out there to do this, some are features within your social network and some are third-party apps. Whatever you need to do, do it — sacrificing such a fountain of good information is not an option! Once you groom your feed into something you can count on, and trust, be selective when letting something else in. If you find a bad egg, don’t be shy to use the block button. It’s all about what you make it.

If you’re part of the media, work hard to gain trust. Check, and recheck your sources. Don’t be spammy. Engage your audience. Most of all, give back to the community — reciprocate however is appropriate. It’s not just social media that has fallen, but TV, radio and other types of media have lost trust as well. So take all of it into consideration moving forward.

Not an end-all, be-all

Don’t be discouraged. As a matter of fact, take the survey with a grain of salt really. Keep in mind it is just a survey and it has its flaws. Remember this:

“The 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer survey sampled 4,875 informed publics in two age groups (25-34 and 35-64). All informed publics met the following criteria: college-educated; household income in the top quartile for their age in their country; read or watch business/news media at least several times a week; follow public policy issues in the news at least several times a week.”

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