The state of social media and trust

Every year Edelman is kind enough to keep tabs on the state of trust around various industries, and it’s no secret that for most industries trust has been on a sad and steady decline.

Social media platforms are part of this erosion of trust, as Adweek reports:

“The study reflected a widespread decline in trust of social media platforms. In the United States, trust in social media dropped 11 points year-over-year to 30 percent. Only 40 percent of digitally connected people thought social media was doing a good job controlling the spread of false information and controlling hate speech or other forms of online harassment, and 60 percent of respondents said they didn’t trust social media companies to behave responsibility with personal data. Nearly 70 percent of respondents said fake news, clickbait, and cyberbullying and hate speech all contributed to lowering their trust in social media.”

Brands don’t get off scot-free here, however:

“About half of the survey’s respondents said that it was a brand’s own fault if its advertising appeared alongside hate speech or other inappropriate content online; 47 percent said that the points of view appearing near advertising and marketing are an indication of that brand’s own values.”

Individuals in the study also reported feeling that brands were responsible for pressuring social platforms to do better since they wield more influence than just one person.

So this is the state of trust; not great. How do we improve it? What does it mean for brands?

The trust equation

In our recent Digital PR webinar, we discussed the trust equation (from this piece):

trust equation

In a nutshell, it means:

“. . .the amount you trust someone is the sum of how credible you believe they are on a subject, how reliable they’ve proven themselves to be over time, and how authentic you think they are as a person, divided by how much you think they’re acting in their own self interest.”

Anne Raimondi’s article this is from primarily discusses interpersonal working relationships at startups, but its lessons also apply to brands and industries that have been experiencing an erosion of trust. Twitter has been working to improve user trust in them by cracking down on safety measures at the expense of shipping new products. It’s a move they’ve been criticized for, but it’s smart in terms of earning back trust according to this equation.

What brands can do

Trust takes a long time to earn and it can be broken quickly. Earning it back can be twice as difficult- especially as a brand-  because consumers know you always have a self interest in staying in business.

If trust has eroded in your brand, consider implementing these lessons:

  • Communicate clearly and often: Social is a great place for brands to do this, especially in established communities where audiences have opted into more frequent communication
  • Be social IRL: In person when possible; plan events with your biggest brand advocates to thank them, and invite influencers you want to work with
  • Design proactive customer service: Anticipate issues where possible, be human in your language and be transparent when things go wrong

Those are all based on suggestions from the trust equation article, but brands can do more and go further, especially using social media as a tool.


  • Be diligent about ad placement: Sometimes you’ll be unlucky and an algorithm you have no control over will put your ad next to something unsavory, but if you have comprehensive brand monitoring in place, you’ll know right away so you can pull the ad before it snowballs into a crisis comms situation
  • Work with influencers: While trust is eroding in a lot of places, many consumers still report trusting influencers (just be sure you do your due diligence and work with influencers that make sense for your brand and target audience)
  • Find the right balance in promoting your corporate social responsibility: If it’s part of your company values, communicate it; just not to the point it seems to be too self-promotional

Last words

Trust isn’t a simple thing, and with most advice it comes back to one thing: Be human. Treat customers like you want to be treated as a customer.

Got questions or something we missed? You can always find us on Twitter @UnionMetrics.