The recent Edelman survey on trust has plenty of interesting findings – and some surprises that seem to contradict conventional wisdom on social media. The study suggests, for example, that consumers place the most trust in expert spokespeople and information sources (such as industry analyst or stock reports) but that trust in traditional media sources continues to erode. No real surprise there, except for the related finding that trust in “peers and friends” has dropped dramatically. An AdAge article suggests this is due to the explosion (and dilution) of online “friending” coupled with increased skepticism by consumers. Based on this survey, “peer-to-peer” marketing is not the magic bullet some had thought, but just one piece of the solution. And it’s interesting to see that “expert” sources – including CEOs and other credentialed folks – are still seen as a valuable source in the midst of multi-media noise.

I agree with Steve Rubel’s take on the findings that this is good news for PR. Consumers still seek a range of expert sources they can trust, and positioning credible experts – and building their profile and bona fides – is the core of effective PR. What continues to change is how to do this, and where to place these experts. Over the past decade or so, we’ve learned it’s not enough to get the big hit in the Wall Street Journal. What the Edelman survey also suggests, however, is that generating buzz and kudos on social networks is also insufficient. Social media has become a critical platform for PR, but it’s not the only tool and it’s not fool-proof. Smart communicators should continue to pay close attention to the information needs and habits of consumers, and keep focusing on the credibility of the messenger and messages. No matter what the platform or format, that still seems to matter.

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