According to the 2007 Trust Barometer published by PR firm Edelman, “a person like me” is the most trusted spokesperson in much of the developed world. Okay, this doesn’t mean me, but this means you, too, and everyone else considered to be a peer by any person. This means people turn to peers for advice on just about anything, and they would more likely trust that person rather than, say, a corporate spokesperson or a CEO of a company.
“A person like me” is the most trusted spokesperson across the European Union, North America, and Latin America. In Asia, it is second to physicians. For the second consecutive year, “a person like me” or a peer is the most trusted spokesperson in the United States at 51%. A peer is tied with doctors as the most trusted messenger across the big three economies of Europe, at 45%.
CEOs are trusted by only 18% of opinion leaders in Europe’s three largest economies (the United Kingdom, France, and Germany), the lowest rating ever recorded in the survey within this group of nations. In the United States, 22% of respondents trust CEOs. In the United States, 36% trust an average employee, while in the three largest economies of Europe 28% trust these employees, making rank-and-file employees more trusted than CEOs in both the United States and Europe.
“The growing trust in ‘people like me’ and average employees means that companies must design their communications as much on the horizontal or the peer-to-peer axis as on the vertical or top-down axis,” said David Brain, CEO of Edelman Europe. “CEOs should continue to talk with elites, such as investors and regulators, but also provide critical information to employees and enthusiastic consumers who spur the peer-to-peer discussion. Third parties with credentials, like academics and physicians, are also critical.”
This reinforces the importance of social media in today’s decision-making, particularly for consumers. How many times have you made a purchase after reading consumer reviews online? How many times have you decided to watch a movie or buy/rent a DVD after reading reviews by viewers? How many times have you decided to sign up for an online service based on friends’ recommendations or invitations? It’s also the same case on the negative side. You would probably avoid products or services after negative reviews by users.
It’s likely that peer opinions have always been held in high regard. Word of mouth, after all, is perceived to be an inexpensive, but effective, means of marketing. However, social media makes it easier for people to interact with one another, and definitely helps spread the word faster.
However, businesses that plan to take advantage of social media for word-of-mouth marketing should proceed with caution. Edelman itself has had experience with this, having been involved in several blogger-relations efforts that have backfired. People, especially those with much experience with social media, have a knack for knowing what’s real and what’s not.
The same study also cited businesses as more trusted than government or the media, and non-government organizations as having the most credibility. The research, conducted by SurveyOne, surveyed respondents between 35 to 64 years of age, college educated, and in the top 25% of their respective countries’ income group.