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As Trust Declines, How Are You Helping Clients (or Your Agency) Earn It?

And is a declining trust in media real?

As TRust Declines, Are You Earning It?According to the new 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer Study posted just six days ago, we are more jaded than ever about news – trusting what we hear about on social media far more than from media sources.


What led to this happening? Social media is stealing their value away as the first source of breaking news and content marketing has exploded into a rich source of fresh perspectives, opinions and expertise in an unprecedented volume.

But I feel this survey is extremely misleading, even detrimental to the importance of media.


One of my favorite parts of this SlideShare is the sharing of annual milestones discovered by the survey:

  • Fall of the celebrity CEO
  • Trust shifting from “authorities” to peers
  • A “person like me” emerges as a credible spokesperson
  • Businesses more trusted than government and media
  • Young influencers have more trust in business
  • Trust as an essential line of business
  • Rise of [influencers as?] authority figures
  • Trust is essential to innovation

I would debate several of these, however, as the questions are a bit leading. It is very prone to misinterpretation. As with any survey-style of research, answers are also skewed based on who was interviewed and their personal perspective, even timing when they took the survey based on what influenced them that specific day.

If the question is “do you trust news more from your peers or from media” – that perspective is everything. Most people might answer it thinking of where they hear it first, and how often. For example, if I see posts all over Facebook about the Leaning Tower of Pisa having fallen over due to a massive earthquake in Italy, then of course I might believe it. First, due to volume (it’s all over my Facebook stream), second due to credibility of links where the story originated. (Is it shared by the NYT? Yup, believed. Shared by The Onion or a small blogger? Nah.)

Where did those links originate? MEDIA.

But depending on questions before and after the survey, and a recent situation that might pop into my head as I read the question, I might answer peers, focusing on how the volume of posts influenced its believability.

In the survey, one of the actual questions is, “When looking for general news and information, how much would you trust each type of source for general news and information.” The choices included online search engines, traditional media, hybrid media, social media and owned media” in order of most trusted to least.

Duh… but wait.

Who doesn’t use a search engine first to find information? Everyone. It’s the obvious choice. But what does it pull up? Credible news sources – media – first, along with editorial by influencers and relevant ezines and blog post aggregators.

Without that media content, search engines would not be used – especially for breaking news and confirming or validating news.

Reading the survey, I might then think news sources are losing credibility when the real fact is that social media volume might bring the breaking news to my attention for how important or urgent it might be – but the credible sources behind that volume actually drove the trust.

This study belittles the value of media, which ruffles my feathers a bit. And isn’t it interesting that it’s a PR agency doing the belittling, when the value of media drives their business? Hmm.

Why does this matter?

Of course Edelman is viewed as a leading PR agency in the US – the world, even – but it interested me because the Trust Barometer drives stories such as “News Media No Longer Trusted!” and “News Media is Dead” – stories that encourage misunderstandings and opinions based on the wrong detail.

If someone reports a finding from the study without looking a little deeper or thinking it through, it has the potential to spur TONS of incorrect information. I’d be very interested in hearing what media publishers have to say about the survey.

It ruffles my feathers a little bit, but I do believe the study includes some valuable information worth acting on.

What is the most important takeaway?

It is MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER to focus a large part of PR around building trust.  and credibility around the company, it’s products and services. From enterprise Fortune 500 companies to digital agencies and entrepreneurs, producing content that shares expertise has never been more important.

8 Ways to Build Trust

Understanding the importance of building trust isn’t the same thing as actually DOING IT. So what are a few ways to get started?

1. Build out your LinkedIn company page and regularly post news to it. Why is this important? It’s a second newsroom, and one that invites social sharing and dialog. It also becomes a timeline archive of your company’s milestones that is very search-friendly. If you are one of those companies that doesn’t invest in SEO (big mistake!), it might even rank better than your own website, making it a critical touchpoint for those looking for information on you.

2. Take a fresh look at your blog. Are you only sharing news, or are you including an abundance of blog posts that showcase your culture, your expertise, your influential employees, and other things that establish you as a leader in your industry? Blogging is the #1 content marketing platform you should focus on doing well before you concern yourself about other content opportunities. it’s also the #1 thing that will improve traffic and SEO ranking for your website. It’s worth a heavy focus.

3. If you don’t have a blog, start one now and post AT LEAST twice a week. Otherwise, it will take years to build up a meaningful volume. Teach yourself or hire someone to train you how to leverage search engine optimization within each blog post, and make sure each post is high quality and targeted to your specific audience. It’s a long-term commitment, so prepare yourself to not see results for quite a while but once you do, they will be strong. Do a great job or don’t bother. (Now re-read #2 for tips on what to blog about.)

Remember that “blog” refers to your entire compilation of posts – and “post” refers to a single blog post within your overall blog. Calling a post “blog” is incorrect and akin to calling

4. Look at your Klout score. If you promote yourself as a digital agency or an online company of ANY KIND, it’s a signal post for how real that claim actually is. Your prospective customers notice. If you are a digital agency or a social media app provider with a low Klout score, for example, then it clearly indicates your lack of a presence on social media. Ouch. 

Klout scores in themselves are not important – but it is one of many tools used to form an opinion by those active on social media. And who isn’t active on social media, right?

How do you build a decent Klout score? It measures and indicates activity, not influence. Building your score requires being active on at least one social media platform, consistently and regularly curating and creating original content relevant to your industry or claim of expertise.

I personally feel Twitter is indispensable to building a Klout score because it allows (and encourages) a higher volume of sharing that you can’t do successfully with other social platforms. The stream moves so fast that constant activity is required to be visible, and Klout likes that level of activity.

5. If you are on a social media platform – respond to customers when they post on your page. Ignoring them creates unnecessary animosity and ill will. It also fosters a lack of trust and customer service issues. When done correctly, social media can be your most powerful resource for making customers happy and loyal, but you’ll never get there by ignoring them. It amazes me how high the percentage is of companies that don’t bother. (Shame on them; it’s way past time for them to figure it out! The larger the company, the more their customers expect from social media.)

6. Think of ways to let your employees shine. People buy from people and trust people – branding is built layer by layer of customer interactions with those employees. Building trust is very difficult if you don’t have a company culture of empowering your employees and letting them shine individually. It can be as simple as inviting them to write blog posts for the company blog, and empowering the right people to take ownership of customer service issues on social media. If you don’t focus on these kinds of transparency and authenticity, your company remains a nameless, faceless “entity” that is disengaged from its audience. That hampers or completely blocks trust.

7. Trust begins and ends with customer service. If you are completely focused on using content marketing alone to build trust, you are missing a significant component: branding. Branding is all about customer perception –  which fuels social media engagement (especially on Facebook pages). How big of a priority is customer service for your organization? Invest in it. Pay attention to it. GROW it. Let it help fuel your social media and publicity.

8. Launch a program that encourages customer reviews online. Not only does this help you rank well for SEO, it has a significant impact on the customer purchase process. If you don’t look at it annually and have a program that ASKS for referrals and recommendations online, you are missing out on a very, very high-impact marketing tactic.

These are just a few tactics to begin building trust – care to add to my list? Leave a comment!


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