I have to respectfully disagree with some of the findings being drawn from the 2011 Edelman Trust Barometer survey, at least as you have stated them above.
It is indeed interesting information, but as with all things trust-related, interpretation is very slippery. Case in point: your discussion of the decline of 'people like me' and the conclusions you draw from it--as you put it,
"a clear pointer that they need to incorporate a range of spokespeople in their activities. Relying purely on ‘word of mouth’ is not enough. Combined with the findings about the number of times people need to hear something, this points to the need for integrated communications approaches using a variety of sources and spokespeople to reach companies’ audiences."
I don't think it's a clear pointer of that at all. In fact, I think your interpretation is an invitation to further declines in trust. Here's how.
Your article doesn't suggest any reason for the decline in ratings of 'people like me.' Let me suggest an obvious one: social media have been inundated with corporate messengers whose presence dilutes the resemblance to individuals. No wonder we all trust them less, they are no longer 'people like us,' they are companies trying to look like 'people like us.'
More importantly, the suggested conclusion--that companies need to repeat the message more and more times through more and more channels is simply a call to further and further dilute the messaging. To be perfeclty blunt about it, what you're describing is a situation made bad by over-messaging, and your prescription for fixing it is--still more over-messaging. We have a word for this--spam.
Your quote is telling: you talk about how often people must be 'told' something in order to 'reach' them. But the opportunity of social media is to stop talking and telling; and instead of being heard, to seek to understand. The result is a reciprocal reaction, a relationship beneficial to both.
This is a serious issue. If every emerging medium is more and more quickly deluged with messaging about a company's products and image, then each new medium is trashed faster and faster. Wev'e already had to invent spam filters, do-not-call directories, time-shifting, caller-ID, junk mail lists. Now, in the social media, we're having to employ restricted lists, de-friending and so forth--all to counter abuses of over-messaging--and you're recommending still more.
The promise of social media is getting choked by all this mainstream PR focus on more and more messaging to 'get the word out.' The promise lies in inbound marketing--a beautiful approach made possible by social media, and dependent on transparency. The premise is as old as Dale Carnegie: help other people get what they want, and they will then naturally help you get what you want.
I see great successes in that approach. Unfortunately, none of them are achieved by the methods that Edelman and other mainstream PR firms are advocating--more and more one-to-many broadcast messages through multiple media.
I don't like that Edelman is phrasing these conclusions as relevant to all 'companies engaged in social media activities,' as you put it. That assumes that the only appropriate role for social media communications is one-way, one-to-many, broadcasting, with the avowed intent of persuading. What you get with that approach is incremental improvement at the margin, at the expense of degrading the long-term levels of trust and relationships.
There are entities--like Hubspot Marketing and Chris Brogan--who are preaching the opposite gospel--the idea that social media allow companies to offer choice, to give in order to receive, and to attract rather than promote. The idea is to offer value to create relationships, which in turn give value down the road.
For organizations to suceed in that approach, they have to help customers and be transparent about it. The mainstream media approach has far too often been opaque, not transparent, and the kinds of messaging techniques you're talking about just make it worse.
An example? The blatantly self-aggrandizing ads by British Petroleum on the Gulf Coast, continuing to this day to 'spin' the message. This is not transparency, this is the mult-modal blitz of corporate messaging masquerading as transparency, and cheapening the medium as a result.
When is that kind of messaging important? When a company is doing great things and is under-appreciated for it. When does it in fact get deployed? All too often, when a company was doing bad things and the messaging is deployed to counter the image. And sorry, I don't think BP fits the first case.
Public relations has an interesting relationship with transparency. You can either fix underlying issues, in which case transparency beccomes your friend; or you can make transparency opaque, so nobody notices the underlying issues. The conclusions you're drawing from this study support the second kind of choice, which is precisely what we need less of these days.
I don't want the media blitz of Edelman in promoting the Trust Barometer to stand unchallenged. It's an intersting study, but the conclusions are hardly self-evident. The conclusion you present happens to be very beneficial for Edelman et al--to suggest more and more such messaging.
The opposite, however, may be precisely what's needed to halt the decline in the very trust numbers you're reporting.