Do You Trust Your “Friends”? 2011 Edelman Trust Barometer

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The 2011 Edelman Trust Barometer has just been released. This global study of where the public places its trust fascinates me because changes in our environment create shifts in trust – and indicate to businesses, governments and NGOs where they stand in the public’s perception.

Trust is not constant – on a personal level or a global level. We all know that our trust in individuals can be impacted by their actions, and our trust in institutions changes as we react to their public machinations.  In 2007 for example, the Barometer concluded that Business was more trusted than government and media” and a scant two years later (further into the economic troubles of the decade) the study concluded that “Business must partner with government to regain trust”.

In the 2011 Barometer, domestic trust in U.S. businesses fell by 8 points to 46 percent, no doubt a result of the continued economic pressures, while trust in the Government feel by 6 points to 40 percent, no doubt a result of the failure of the current administration’s efforts to cure the country’s economic woes.

As our use of social media has increased, some unexpected changes have occurred. The barometer measures the trust placed in spokespeople by the public. Last year, a “person like me” ranked third in authority at 47 percent. In the 2011 study their authority dropped by 4 points to place them next to the bottom rung of trust. The study supposes that this is not a reflection of our lack of trust in our peer to peer communication, but rather a change in what we mean when that term is used in the study.  As the study notes; “With some estimates indicating that the average Facebook user does not know one-fifth of the 500 people typically listed on his or her page, it is reasonable to ask whether the meaning of the word “friend” – and by association “a person like me”- has become devalued

Each of us that are active in the social media space need to ask how this impacts our interactions with our online communities. Are you building lists of people you call friends or are you interacting with a community in a meaningful manner that will build trust through engagement? Your strategy for social media engagement doesn’t necessarily have to be built around trust, but without trust your communications have much less value.

Calling someone a friend doesn’t make them one and we need to remember that we are judged by our actions everywhere. Our reputation is formed by those actions, and that reputation is what generates trust in new contacts and helps us to retain existing contacts. If being a trusted member of your community is important to you, then meaningful engagement in a genuine manner is still the best way to proceed.

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