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Trust and Influence Online -- is there such a thing?

by Retired Blogger on ‎05-31-2010 07:53 PM - last edited on ‎05-02-2012 10:32 PM by Retired Moderator

Disclaimer: I’m doing some work with Empire Avenue, a Canadian organization that is helping to determine the value of content creators and content online. Some of the work I do there is relevant to and inspired this post. This post is not about Empire Avenue; it’s about trust and influence. Enough said, let us begin.
Trust and Influence Online -- is there such a thing?
I’ve been involved with the Internet since the ‘90s. Over that time I’ve learned the hard way that you can’t always trust what you read online. Back in the day, it was ‘You can’t always trust what you read or see on TV’. Hoax email were the trade of the day, and eventually sites like Snopes helped distinguish the real from the hoax.
The media has evolved since the end of the last century, but our need to be able to trust what we consume through that media hasn’t.
Old Skool
Old media had their gatekeepers (News Editors, Reporters, Announcers, Anchors, Writers, Fact Checkers, etc) whose job it was to uphold the credibility of the publication by applying a set of journalistic standards to any news or story they published or aired.

When they fell short, and it was noticed, we, the media-consuming public were angry because we felt our trust was betrayed.
News in the Tubes
In the Internet age, where everyone has the ability to be a publisher and enforce their own set of standards on the content they produce, it’s much harder to easily extend trust to an individual, blog, or website. You have to invest more time and effort examining the content, determining if it meets your personal veracity tests. And if it does, you’ll eventually come to trust all content produced by that source. If it doesn’t all content from that creator / provider will be somewhat suspect.

And this is where we’re going today, trying to understand how we determine which content we trust, and which we don’t.
For example, I saw this amazing photo cross my Twitter stream earlier today, and I was so impressed, I ReTweeted it.



Now, the act of ReTweeting something has, in many circles, come to mean that the person ReTweeting the content not only wants to share the content with their followers. It also can mean that the ReTweeter agrees with, endorses, or supports the content to some extent.
That’s not always the case, as with any content, a ReTweet can also contain additional commentary or context that helps clarify the ReTweeter’s position.
But how does that affect me as a content consumer or content creator? In the example, since I’m following someone’s Twitter stream, I’m interested in what they’re saying. When they show me that photo, which does look like it could be Photoshopped, and they’re reacting as if it’s real while my skepticism tells me otherwise, does my belief in their content drop a notch? Am I risking my reputation as a communicator by blindly ReTweeting their content?
And what do others think of my ReTweet? As content creators we’re also influencers; some people trust what we say.

So we’re back to trying to determine whether we trust content or not.


Here’s another example; another sinkhole in Guatemala. This time as reported by National Geographic in 2007.


What’s different in this story is the reporting agency and the amount of time that’s passed since the event.

I believe the second report much more readily than the first, because the source is a highly credible and trustworthy content publisher, and the claims made in the story haven’t been disputed since the story was published and are part of the public record.

In the first item, from Gizmodo, the content publisher doesn’t have the sterling reputation that National Geographic has (very few publishers do), and the event happened recently...which means independent verification of the event is required for me to ‘trust’ the content from that creator. Lucky for me, CNN had this item on a large tropical storm that ravaged the area, including 2 photos of the same sinkhole.

But I had to do extra work to convince myself that the content was trustworthy. And that’s just how I online experiences have taught me that some content I can trust as presented, and other content needs more research and backup before I can trust it.

And that means that content from a more trustworthy source is more likely to influence my thoughts, behaviours and actions.

Making it relevent

Shifting our discussion of media content from News to Product Reviews and applying my thinking above results in this; the more I trust a review about something I'm in the market to buy, the more likely I am to buy it.

Trust == Influence. Trust the content source and you’re influenced by the content source.

Or are you? Am I out to lunch on this or do you agree with me (and have a most excellent example to support your position)? Let me know in the comments below.

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