Buzzkill – Are We Souring on Social Media?

The Los Angeles Times reports the latest Trust Barometer Survey by Edelman Public Relations, and the results are sobering.  Back in the early days of social media, people tended to trust their online friends more than advertisements and marketers.  In fact, I reported this in my book, The Last TV Evangelist.  In those days, personal networks were the dominant force in decision making about products and services.  But in this latest survey, things have changed, as companies have learned to harness the web.  As the Times reports: 

“According to the survey, since 2008 the number of people who view their friends and peers as credible sources of consumer and business information dropped by almost half, from 45% to 25%. Similarly, in the past year, the number of people who view peers as credible spokespersons also slipped. Even more strikingly, however, after a precipitous decline earlier in the decade, informed consumers have regained trust in traditional authorities and experts.”

What does it mean?  Essentially, it means that corporations have made social media more professionalized and less personal, and as a result, we just don’t know who to trust anymore.  From my perspective, this has also happened as a resut of the popularity of social media.  As we grow to hundreds (or thousands) of friends on Facebook or Twitter, we lose the personal connection to each person.  As a result, social media becomes more impersonal and unfriendly.

It’s an interesting phase of the social media revolution.  I’d love to know your thoughts…

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Matt_P

    Well, GOOGLE seems to see this area still growing. Read the WSJ article on their latest purchase.

    Google Buys Ask-Your-Friends Site

    Google Inc., in a move that highlights its growing interest in social networking, said it had agreed to acquire Mechanical Zoo Inc., which operates a free question-and-answer Web service called Aardvark.

    When little Google elbows the other kids aside to do all the fun activities himself, tears ensue. Mom and Dad take action.

    Aardvark’s technology analyzes a user’s question to determine what it is about and then searches through the questioner’s network of friends to find the best person to answer via instant messenger or email.

    The deal highlights Google’s push to bolster its presence in the social-networking market dominated by companies like Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. Google earlier this week introduced Google Buzz, which integrates social networking features directly into its Gmail email service.

    Terms of the acquisition weren’t disclosed but tech blog TechCrunch, citing an unnamed source, pegged the price at about $50 million. Google declined to provide details or its plans for the Aardvark service.

    The transaction is the latest in a series of acquisitions by Google since Chief Executive Eric Schmidt announced in October that the company was once again “open for business” on the acquisition front.

    Mechanical Zoo, which was founded in late 2007 by two former Google employees, is based in San Francisco and has raised about $7.5 million in venture capital.

    Aardvark, whose Web site is, had about 90,000 users as of October. It lets users create their networks by importing contacts from their email accounts, instant messaging services and Facebook. It says its search engine considers people’s profiles, connections, people’s favorites things and location when matching questions with respondents.

    The company generates revenue by charging some users to serve as specialists in particular fields and provide “sponsored answers.” It also takes a cut on transactions recommended by and acted on through its service.

  • cynthia

    Hard to say where we’re at in social media evolution – in a pendulum swing – or at a resting point.  I often glean a lot from the writing of Jeremiah Owyang @ Forrester & he’s got a good visual representation of how really “just at the beginning” we are when it comes to participatory media:  Lemme know what you think?

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    What does it mean? Essentially, it means that corporations have made social media more professionalized and less personal, and as a result, we just don’t know who to trust anymore.

    Except for the Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory website du jour.

    Seriously, I wonder if this is one of the reason Conspiracy Theories are exploding these days. When we don’t know who to trust anymore, we tunnel-vision into our own narrative to make sense of the chaos. Until The Dwarfs are for The Dwarfs, and Won’t Be Taken In.

  • Steve Newton

    I learned at a recent conference that some marketers are paying bloggers in kind with products and cash to highly recommend the marketers products to consumers. The FTC is beginning to clamp down on these practices, but still goes on all the time.

    Another major area of concern is the use of private information that marketers and some social companies are keeping on file including your credit card #s, SSN#’s and other personal data. BOA has cancelled some of its affiliate marketing programs due to misuse of this data and reverse negative upsells .

  • Scott Spiewak

    Trust is no doubt the most competitive edge right now when it comes to PR.

    Social media trends are no doubt facing ebb and flow like many trends go. The corporate side has delegated the function of social media which is why I believe larger platforms lose their personal touch. Teams roll up reports and offer feedback which in essence corporations love.

    While social media is no doubt a massive move it still can’t replace picking up the phone and talking with someone. Jesus never ate alone right? Use it to build the platform, connect with consumers and grow but there still needs to be everything else in place to support the influx of response to personally touch people.

    People are more apt to read your book for example, if they can personally meet you.

  • Rachelle

    I think this is a normal and predictable phase in the life cycle of social media. As the number of bloggers, Tweeters and Facebook friends increases, social media becomes less personal. Don’t forget also that in addition to legitimate businesses using social media, the spammers are out in force. Their presence decreases the overall trustworthiness of social media, I think.

    Because there are so many people (businesses and spammers) who use social media with the pretense of being personal, social media will continue to decrease in it’s trustworthiness and it will be harder to have an actual “personal” interaction via social media.

    For me, the thing I most dislike about social media is the pretense or artificiality of trying to sell something under the guise of being my “friend.”

  • Robert

    From my (somewhat selfish) perspective — as a print journalist — the impersonalization of social media hopefully means more public trust returning to validated news sources, i.e. newspapers and/or their Web sites. Just as I want my doctor/lawyer/mechanic to be as professional and practiced as possible, at the end of the day I also want my news source to be as professional/credible as possible. I want to see words spelled correctly, facts checked and reporting accomplished. Unfortunately, what I see is professional print dumbing itself down to meet the interest of the social networking scene (for the record, I am a card-carrying member of both the MSM and FB/Twitter).

  • ChURcHwORlD 2.0
  • Aweaver3

    Personally, I’m all “social media out”. There’s so much information from so many sites that I’ve had to pull back and only focus on a handful. Even if friends recommend a new site, I may look at it and then ask whether or not it fits into my priorities. If it doesn’t, I leave it alone. My plan is to build depth (genuine relationships) instead of only having a large amount of people. In reference to trying new products, I tend to listen to those I know who use social media and recommend things that I should try out.
    Allen Paul Weaver III
    Author, Speedsuit Powers