For the first time since public relations company Edelman first ran its trust barometer survey, which gauges the levels of trust societies have in various organisations, search engines have overtaken traditional media as the most-trusted source for attaining general news and information.
For this year's edition (the 15th of its kind), Edelman surveyed 33,000 people in 27 countries around the world on their trust in government, media, business and NGOs.
The survey recorded that the level of trust in traditional media dropped to 62 percent, while the level of trust in online search engines rose gradually to 64 percent.
What’s more is that gap was even larger when the study limited to the millennial demographic, with 72 percent saying that they trusted online search engines and only 64 percent saying that they trusted traditional media.
When traditional media was broken down into newspapers and television, the survey clearly illustrated the preference consumers now have for digital technology. Online search led each of the categories included in the survey: first source for general information; first source for breaking news (although this category was tied between online and television); and source used most to confirm/validate news.
Although the survey does gauge trust, in this instance it largely tells the story of people shifting their media consumption online—a trend that has led to a significant decline in print readership over the last decade.
Tonia Ries, the executive director of Edelman Square (the agency’s intellectual property center), wrote that these changes in the community perceptions mean that businesses can no longer rely on mainstream publications to tell their stories.
“More voices shape those conversations about your organisation or your industry than ever before,” said Ries. “72 percent trust information posted by friends and family on social media, blogs and other digital sites, while 70 percent trust content posted by academic experts. On the other end of the spectrum, content from a company chief executive or elected officials is trusted by only 46 percent and 40 percent of the global informed public, respectively.”
The level of trust for journalists was also relatively low, with consumers trusting content created directly by business more than that written in newsrooms.
“On digital media platforms such as social media or blogs, content created by “companies I use” is more trusted than content created by a journalist (60 percent vs 53 percent),” said Ries.
The findings also further consolidated the role of social media in establishing consumer trust in a business.
“Building trust requires high levels of engagement from multiple stakeholders, and peer-level conversations are especially effective,” explains Ries. “Social media has risen to a trust level of 48 percent (59 percent among Millennials). Today, it’s all about starting peer-to-peer conversations and making sure that your content is easy to find.”
The trust in electronic extended beyond search engines and social media to include electronic and mobile payments (69 percent), electronic and personal health trackers (59 percent) and cloud computing (55 percent). However this was not the case for the more controversial innovations of hydraulic fracturing (at 47 percent) and genetically modified foods (at 32 percent).
Interestingly, despite growing trust in digital technology, many of those surveyed seemed overwhelmed by the the rate at which the industry is evolving, with 51 percent saying that pace of change was too fast.