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Is social media considered unreliable?

To trust or not to trust – that is the question! When it comes to the Internet, it’s an interesting one.

The Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California recently reported some surprising findings, if not some head-scratching contradictions. For example, the report says that 75 percent of Internet users say it’s an important source of information. That’s generally what we’ve come to accept as true. Ah, but then this contradiction – a significant number of people don’t necessarily deem what they see online as reliable!

According to CDF, overall trust in the Internet has increased slightly in its current study. But, while 75 percent say the Internet is a great source of information, only 45 percent said they have either some or a lot of trust in the Internet. And, a significant 15 percent of respondents said they trust only a small portion or none of the Internet. That has more than doubled from the 7 percent that previously cited the Internet as unreliable.

CDF has been surveying some 2,000 households annually for the past 12 years, the longest continuous study of its kind. CDF’s timing couldn’t have been better as the Internet has particularly blossomed this past decade. What’s more, social media like Facebook and Twitter, among others, have literally dazzled us while mobile technologies have recently advanced at mind-bending speed. Notable, however, is that it’s the social media for which mistrust ranks particularly high. A majority of Internet users have almost no faith that the information they find on social networking sites is reliable and accurate.

According to CDF director Jeffrey I. Cole, the mistrust of social networks stems as much from the fact that people aren’t really looking for reliability there. Instead, they want to be on the social networks to . . . well, socialize (post photos and send friends updates) or as a source of information and participation in social/community causes. So, for boat dealers who have angst about not having a social media program up and running, it’s time to relax. It’s apparent that sharing information about boating’s social lifestyle could be a great fit, but if you think using social media to sell products is the goal, the CDF study indicates it would likely be wasted effort.

Interestingly, Cole noted government websites get a high reliability rating. (That makes me chuckle since government, in general, seemingly gets bagged by everyone these days!) In 2010, 79 percent of Internet users rated content on government sites as reliable. More specifically, when it comes to privacy, people are more concerned about businesses than the government. In the survey, 48 percent claimed they are “worried” about companies tracking what they do online on the Internet. Meanwhile, only 38 percent were concerned about government watching them online.

From Cole’s findings, then, it would seem important for all boat dealers who have websites and any Internet marketing programs to reassure visitors that maintaining privacy is something they can count on. Having and emphasizing a privacy policy that viewers can read has become increasingly important.

Overall, dealers concerned that they may be missing marketing opportunities because they don’t have a social media program in operation (the majority of dealers don’t, I believe) can draw from CDF’s work that social media currently has definite limits. It’s social and that’s the best way to use such media. As for sales information on products and services, it’s not wanted or trusted by most users.


4 comments on “Is social media considered unreliable?

  1. Mike Dickman

    I would agree that social media has limits. However, that should not stop dealers, brokers, marinas and the like from engaging in the medium. Portray yourself and/or your business as an authority within the industry by providing valuable information to your community and your community will determine how reliable you are by continuing to follow you and sharing your information.

    I would guess that if Mr. Cole were to narrow his research to focus on our industry, his data may actually change as I believe that there are greater opportunities for unreliable ‘opinions’ in the general consumer marketplace.

    My advice is, get on the social media ride and be authentic. There is nothing unreliable about that.

  2. Guy Filmore

    Well said Mike Dickman.

    The last paragraph of this article is so typical of many of our older industry leaders and writers that just simply don’t get digital media.

    “Overall, dealers concerned that they may be missing marketing opportunities because they don’t have a social media program in operation (the majority of dealers don’t, I believe) can draw from CDF’s work that social media currently has definite limits. It’s social and that’s the best way to use such media. As for sales information on products and services, it’s not wanted or trusted by most users.”

    To those dealers that truly believe that, “sales information is not wanted or trusted by most users.” Please continue to think this way but don’t get upset when I steal all of your customers. As an industry, we need to embrace technology and harness it as a tool to educate, entertain and inform our current and FUTURE customers about our products.

    I love ya Shultz. But telling dealers it is ok to sit on the social media sidelines because consumers don’t want to hear what we have to say, is just plain bad advice.

  3. Mike Fruchter

    I think this study by the CFD is flawed, and I also I would like to more know about the characteristics of the 2,000 households that were sampled for this survey. How accurately does such a limited sampling provide reliable results?

    Social media have grown, evolved and continue to evolve into mature marketing and communications channels. It’s not about posting family photos and chatting on Facebook anymore. Sure there are plenty of people who use social media just for that, but social media are powerful tools for the majority of businesses out there. The end user must always go to the source if they are looking for truthful/factual information. This is why we have verified Twitter accounts, official Facebook pages, etc., where we can verify the source of the information. It’s not hard to look for the truthful and factual information, but one must look for it.

    Where is the proof to back this statement: up? “As for sales information on products and services, it’s not wanted or trusted by most users.”

    I agree with the previous poster – social media are about building and fostering relationships. It’s these relationships that drive sales. It’s no different offline; business is about relationship building and social media afford the opportunity on a global scale to do just that.

    The fact is social media are driving sales by record numbers. The marine industry especially should be taking advantage of these tools. Consumers are looking for product information and value. If you are using social media to just broadcast and not engage and provide content of use to your audience, you will have limited success. Build your community, add value and only then should you go for the hard sell. Give first and you will be surprised how much you receive in return.

    In today’s world it’s about fishing where the fish are. Social media is not the end all answer and certainly has limits – but it’s one tool that NEEDS to be in your arsenal.

    Mike Fruchter
    Director of Digital Strategy
    Pierson Grant Public Relations

  4. dave

    Sadly for me, and many people like me…who do not want to be held hostage by Facebook and their ilk, forcing us to USE these suspect social media to gain access to information, use coupons, or converse with corporate, do so at their own peril. Many of us “vote with our feet” and will not be held hostage by companies who collect MY information and then use it for THEIR own purposes, and in spite of what their T&C’s state, privacy be damned.

    Having worked in computer security and compliance, I am well aware of what data mining and these tools provide the business, but at what expense and risk to the customer. I still see postings of mine from the old UUNET days of the 1980’s on google seaches today ….just how long do you think Facebook keeps your data, and in what fashion. When credit card companies and banks (highly regulated and compliant) regularly loose your personal data, what do you think happens with social media data…

    IF you want my business, communicate with ME, in almost any fashion you like (email, vm, phone, etc)….but please do not expect me to put all my data up on a social media site….be it boats, motorcycles, houses, or anything. No matter how secure or well managed and protected, you or your vendor says it is…I know better.

    Business would be better served, simply responding to the web pages they have put up, whether by web app or email. In the last year, my inquiries are 19 and 1 using web page and email to gather information….19 NO responses and 1 response. These were all in reference to one job I had -to get an MSD/HnT system installed on a 42′ sailboat…

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