The diminishing returns of friends? Trust on the decline.

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In response to a recent Edelman study and Hubspot post about the 2010 barometers of trust — and specifically, the reduced level of trust in our friends’ advice — I was inspired to write a comment which I post below.  “According According to the latest [Edelman] survey, the number of people who view their friends and peers as credible sources of information about a company has dropped from 45% in 2008 to 25% in 2010, decreasing almost by half!”

Edelman Trust Graphic 2010

The open-field system of social media that has been and remains (at least for now) ‘free’ was also free of restraints, allowing a flooding of the airwaves and causing a number of free market abuses. While you are certainly right Charles H. Green (@Trusted Advisors) to say that trust is situational, it is also institutional and personal. The one factor that is incompressible, however, is time and, the lack of time versus the oversupply of advice and links, etc., has created a natural culling effect.

The winnowing out of the blogs you read, the tweets you click on and the brands you will buy into is the result of a natural, Darwinian process of selection. In a constantly evolving landscape, people and brands will need to learn the value of their online credibility. Just like the lack of trust of marketers was caused by irrelevance and unwanted interruption, now poor or unwanted advice, unashamed self-promotion and virtual noise have dropped the value of having an overly wide circle of “friends.”

Your lasting strength and personal creditworthiness come, on the one hand, from the value of being selective in the friends you accept or “follow” and the sites you reference, as well as, on the other hand, the quality of your own posts, comments & links you share. I am sure that this boomerang effect will be healthy for the social media sites, because the bubble was appearing a bit oversized. As suggested by Emmanuel de Saint-Bon, your circle of friends becomes your network; but, if you spurn the needs of your network, you risk getting turned off, just as the TV networks have experienced.

Your thoughts?

6 Comments, RSS

  1. We are launching a new product at the moment – an online science channel. – not much up there now but give it a few weeks and it will be a big video site). We were thinking about the marketing budget, and how to balance the profit/loss. We just came to the conclusion that actually the smartest thing is to not have a marketing budget at all. To do the WHOLE thing by social networking – using our collected extended networks. That's a big change from 2001 when you basically WERE your marketing budget.

  2. Hi Alex, Kudos for taking the plunge. It seems that the opportunities in social media are ripe for the taking to the extent that the larger companies have yet to wake up and/or continue to struggle to find the right "voice." I truly believe that the PERSONAL component is important to inject in the way one leads a company as well as the way a brand behaves. In the social media space, a brand's message is going to be stronger if it is personal — going all the way to being imperfect. In this regard, you are right: YOU are the message and your NETWORK is your most valuable resource.

  3. Martin Husar

    Well before social media, companies had something called "customer databases". If they weren't careful in how they used these databases, companies would find very quickly that they would see "burn" in these databases by customers opting out of mailing lists and eventually loss of business.

    This lesson is well-applied to today's world of social media and personal networks, yet interestingly enough the tools to monitor "network churn" still don't seem to exist for the social media user … When was the last time you saw a little red flag on your facebook profile telling you how many of your 'friends' had un-connected with you?

  4. Franck Cochoy

    What is interesting is that the declining influence of "friends" is counterbalanced by the growing importance of "anonymous friends", i.e. those people hidden behind pseudonyms who post their reviews on the Internet. See
    Please also note that even if declining, friends' advices still remain the major trusted source of information.

  5. @Martin, excellent idea. No doubt there will be new ways invented to alert people to their poor credit rating. I also like to classify the people I follow on twitter according to how many others are following them or how many tweets they do (too many self promotions or too many, period, is a reason to unfollow, etc).

    @Franck, the anonymous post remains a powerful tool — especially as it concerns sites like And anonymous criticisms of companies on such as on or of teachers on — once you learn to listen AND take out the extremes, the defilers, etc. — is a healthy and legitimate form of feedback.

  6. Vincent

    As a consumer, I go along Frank's line. When looking for a testimonial to help me sort purchase options, I always prefer an anonymous advise than a friend's advise. I feel it always comes out as more objective.

    In my profesional life I've run several campaigns with sponsored bloggers or active influencers. It did show good results but not quite in the way I was expecting: opinion on products were more useful to quickly deliver high ranks on google at early launch stage than effectively drive potential consumer preference…


    I believe the Free market excesses of the Social media you speak of are probably at the origin of the diminishing trust of consumers. We did see in the last 3 years an ever increasing number of sponsored posts… After all, you like a certain blog because of its content or the tone of the blogger. If the content becomes advertising you feel betrayed and you zap…

    That's exactly why I prefer, as a consumer, an unknown's testimonial to a friend's one, and preferably hosted on a specific-to-the-topic forum or a collective website.

    And that's where the paradigm relies, I think. I remember the beggining of Wikipedia and the fear drawn by the fact that regular individuals could re-write History, that the truth could be endangered by the open source of knowledge. Yes, in certain instances, a limited number of them, the dark prophecy became true. But in the vast majority of cases, the community self ruled so that truth would prevail.

    Maybe the evidence of objectivity comes from free self-control / censorship of the crowd.

    Power to the People!


    Cheers from Brazil

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