An article published by Mashable this week, “98% of Americans Distrust the Internet,” was tweeted thousands of times in just a few short hours and could potentially ruffle many of distrustthe faithful’s feathers. The story cites a study by Harris Interactive regarding trust with findings including: 

  • 98% distrust information found on the Internet
  • 94% say acting on inaccurate information you find online can result in “bad things”
  • Leading concerns include wasting time, getting a virus, losing money and fraud
  • The majority surveyed traced their distrust to ads, outdated information and self-promotional content

You’re online. You read blogs. What do you have to say about these findings?

I surveyed myself.

And wow, I found myself to be amazingly more cooperative in this survey than those I’m asked to participate in when my phone rings. In fact, I reeled off all kinds of reactions. Let me share them with you. 

“Sweet.” This was my first reaction. I’m a copywriter. Eek. I know, I already have to deal with this trust issue because for a few hundred squid, I’ll sell your product like I invented it. But hey, wouldn’t it be fair to say the reverse of this 98% distrust issue is 2% trust the information they find online? And if so, doesn’t it make sense to follow with reasoning that would suggest a small minority of people who trust what they see online are prone to trust your pitch before you even deliver it? If 2% of Internet users bought your stuff, would you do okay?

“Too good to be true” was my next thought. An authority reports almost everyone distrusts what they find online. Why would I step in and tell you it’s good news? Because there’s so much OPPORTUNITY. Understand the reason why distrust is so high is because most of what you find online is marketing BS, which doesn’t deserve to be trusted. So we understand the problem, very good. We can work toward arriving at the solution: earn trust.

“Why would you answer otherwise?” This came to mind immediately. If I were to answer that I trust the information I find online I’d expose myself as a gullible idiot. No? Do I, or do you, or does ANYBODY trust everything they see on TV, hear on the radio, get sent in the mail, find in their inbox, read in the papers? Please. Most don’t even trust the people we’ve elected. We trust our friends. We trust those we believe to be authorities. Marketing advice: (1) make friends (2) become an authority.

“No duh” came to mind too. Here, I refer to the study highlighting how the majority said acting on information found online can lead to bad things.I struggle to even treat this as a media issue. I would hope that 100% of those surveyed would say acting on inaccurate information you find ANYWHERE can lead to bad things.

“You shouldn’t trust the Internet” entered my mind too. If the Internet’s the guilty party, how do we convict it? Do we shut it down? Bottom line: we NEVER trust a medium (or at least we shouldn’t); we trust people. Actually, I should say we trust people we deem trustworthy. 

“What we have here is a trust issue.” It’s not a brilliant conclusion. The study was about trust. If it found 51% (instead of 98%) distrust the information they find online, we’d have the same story, right? My point is this: your plan—whether it’s about marketing products, personal branding, connecting with friends, or whatever you do online—must include achieving that illusive thing called trust.

Search though I might, online and off, near and far, I can’t think of one relationship that works without it. Ask yourself: what’s the thing you buy most often? Now ask yourself: do you trust it?

Solving the trust problem.

My conclusion for you as a marketer: tell the truth. It’s the best way to get people to know, like and trust you. The truth might earn you 100% trust.

Let’s say you buy (or acquire) watches on the black market, sell them on the boardwalk, and showcase your inventory by opening your trench coat. If you market yourself as a fine jeweler, only fools will trust you. However, if you tell people what to expect from your timepieces, how you’re able to procure your inventory at low prices and then pass along the savings, you’re likely to win the trust you need to make sales.

My conclusion for you as a consumer: find the truth. You’ve heard of due diligence. Do it. Check sources. Check references. It’s not going to be that hard, and yes, the Internet will help facilitate the process. 

Consider the source. 

The survey cited here and in Mashable’s story was commissioned by Mancx, a company that describes itself as a trusted community for business answers where people buy and sell their knowledge. Convenient how the results came out, wouldn’t you say?

I actually don’t mean to be questioning the study’s validity. But I do challenge any interpretation that would suggest you should avoid going online when you need information. In fact, I am a certified inbound marketing professional and a serious advocate of publishing useful information as a marketing tactic.

It’s called content marketing. 

According to Copyblogger’s Content Marketing 101,“Content marketing involves delivering requested information with independent value that creates trust, credibility, and authority for the business that provides that value.”

Content Marketing Institute will go so far as to say if you’re not doing content marketing, you’re not marketing.

One more finding from the study Harris conducted:

  • 54% say it would be an improvement if the answers always came from trusted sources.

I’ve got to say, that one sounds silly. And my response is the old cliché: don’t believe everything you read.

Consumers, find trusted sources of information. Marketers, be one.

[If you’d like to gather more insights on the power of content marketing, read “Magnetic Content: 21 Ways to Attract Traffic.” There’s a whole lot of truth in it. Trust me. ]