Recently, several noted social authorities sat on a panel at the San Francisco American Marketing Association meeting, to discuss how businesses are leveraging web 2.0 tools to help drive sales, improve service and reach out to customers. Louis Gray reported a blow-by-blow account of the panel on his Friendfeed page, and I found the resultant exchange to be a wonderful place to start the conversation, but as a social media researcher I also found bits of it quite frustrating. One of the panelists, Forrester analyst Jeremiah Owyang, was quoted by Gray as saying:
We did research and asked consumers who they trust. 90% said “people like them”. Under 10% trusted corporate blogs.
If this is indeed an accurate transcription of Forrester’s stats (and question wording), then I am not sure what you can really learn from this. First of all, of course more people are going to trust “people like them” than they will trust businesses. I should hope so! So simply making the comparison is irrelevant. But more sinister than that is the wording of the question itself. Even the word “corporate” is loaded with connotations that imply “faceless” or “bureaucratic” or worse. Does anyone trust anything “corporate?”
The question points out two clear areas for further research–better measures of perception, and better measures of actual behavior. The two must be linked together. Simply measuring clicks tells you little about the motivation behind them, yet asking for those motivations directly is often fraught with complications.
Still, I’d love to know the real answer to Forrester’s question. Here’s one way to fix it–drop the abstractions and test specifics. When I ask you how much you trust what you read from your friends, you have a specific image in mind of individual relationships and the years of specific interactions that have led you to trust your network. A simple way to replicate this and create a better question design would be to ask respondents to name their favorite brands–the ones that they recommend to friends–and ask the respondents if they are aware of any social media efforts by each of those specific brands. For those brands with a perceived social media presence, respondents could then be asked how much they trust that presence. Finally, “control” brands could be used with which the respondents have no relationship (and also brands with no social media presence) to really get at the delta created by blogs and other social tools.