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Despite soaring audiences, trust is still an issue with online

Mideast consumers more likely to be influenced by peers than influencers

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Gulf News

Trust is one of those intangibles which we as communicators must always focus on. That notion of one person relying on and believing in a second person is key to changing attitudes and behaviour. But how do you build trust, and what channels should you focus on?

These are the questions that we need to answer to be able to do our job of building and protecting reputations. So, where should one begin when looking to build trust?

Based on research commissioned by the Middle East Public Relations Association, the place to begin isn’t online, but rather face-to-face. Fake media, less impactful advertising, and third-party advocacy are also reshaping where consumers in the region put their trust.

1. Face-to-face with family/friends is key to influence

It should be obvious to us all, and here’s another reminder for anyone working in communications/marketing. If you want to build trust in a brand, its products and services, then look at how you can engage the public through word-of-mouth. Across the region, 85 per cent of respondents trust product and service recommendations from their family and friends. Nothing else comes close to these positive statistics.

2. Online works if you focus on friends and family, less so on influencers

We’ve shifted from an incessant focus on digital to idolising anything social. In-person interaction is still the most persuasive. Online engagement does work, but it’s not as effective — 52 per cent of respondents trust online recommendations from family and friends. Interestingly, the percentages are highest for the Gulf and lowest for the Levant.

When it comes to influencers, consumers are conflicted — 34 per cent do trust people with large online followings compared to 29 per cent who find them untrustworthy. A lack of transparency regarding paid/sponsored content probably isn’t helping.

3. There’s not as much trust in the media as we PR people may think

I was surprised by how low the scores were when it came to trust in the media as a source of information on products and services. The top-rated media was a brand’s own website. That should make sense, but given how many brand websites are in the region this is still surprising.

It scored 46 per cent for trustworthiness. Every other medium scored in the 30s, which is a surprise considering how much faith PR professionals put in securing editorial coverage with media outlets (for many, it’s still the essence of their day jobs).

Should brands invest more in their own online media? The answer would seem to be an obvious yes.

4. Advertising is trusted almost as much as the media (except when it’s online)

The research is a mixed bag for the advertising sector. Out-of-home advertising such as billboards seem to be the most trusted, with a trust rating of 36 per cent. Television is close behind with 35 per cent, followed by radio at 31 per cent. Online comes in last, at 28 per cent.

There’s more mistrust than trust for online advertising, with 33 per cent of those polled not believing product and services information they see when displayed as an online ad.

Whatever the reason for the low trust, marketers need to do more, especially with trust in advertising dropping. Sixty-one per cent of those polled agreed with a statement that they trust advertising less today than they did five years ago.

5. Social media is a popular news source, but it’s not trusted thanks to fake news concerns

Social media is becoming/has become a key source of news for most people (58 per cent) in the region when compared to five years back (and there’s no distinction either by age, which is surprising). However, there’s still a trust issue.

Almost half agreed they have low trust in social media, which isn’t that surprising given the amount of fake/incorrect information out there. Which goes to underline the need for brands to focus on their owned media channels even more so.

The research did hammer home the power of third-party advocacy. When asked if they have more trust in what a third-party says about a good or a service than what a brand says about its own goods and services, 65 per cent responded by saying yes. Brands need to focus on winning over trusted individuals/groups who can influence consumers.

6. When it comes to social media, Facebook is King

If you’re looking to find out about a product or service in the region, it seems that Facebook is the place to go. Over half said that they found Facebook to be the most useful platform as a source of information. Nothing else came close.

WhatsApp was a distant number two, at 12 per cent, and Instagram third at 9 per cent. There was no mention of Twitter, and it would have been good to have understood where Twitter and YouTube featured as sources of information on products and services for the public.

Alex Malouf is former board member and vice-chair of MEPRA.

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