Social Media Strategy, Social Media Tools, Facebook, Social Media Marketing

The Social Impact of Friendships and Lies

Do you trust me?

Social media relies on the premise that we’ll believe what people tell us more readily than if we were told the same thing by a nameless, faceless company. That’s why brands go to great lengths to humanize themselves on the social Web.

But, a new study by Edelman (whose digital arm features social media and ebusiness genius David Armano) claims that bond is eroding.

A survey of 4,875 adults (500 U.S.) world-wide shows that just 25% of respondents said their friends and peers are credible sources of information about companies – a decline of 20% since a similar analysis in 2008.

AdAge tried to make hay out of these findings with the provocative headline: “In the Age of Friending, Consumers Trust Their Friends Less.

With Friends Like These, Who Needs Friends?

On the surface, it makes sense. The pervasive time crunch that blankets us all has forced us to curtail face-to-face relationships in exchange for digital interaction. And in most cases, we’re willing converts, with Facebook’s ease-of-use and Twitter’s immediacy replacing letter writing and meeting up for lunch. As a result, we have both more and fewer friends than ever.

The real shift is in how we define friendship. That’s the research study I’d like to see. There are dozens – maybe even hundreds – of people that I “know” via social media, and consider to be friends. Yet, in almost every case I have no idea if these people even have siblings.

So, given that we’ve cast a much wider net for our “friends” thanks to the social Web, is it any wonder that some of those new fish will be less than sushi grade? Furthermore, our newfound addiction to status updating gives each of our “friends” that many more opportunities to ratify or countermand our own choices and proclivities, building or eroding trustworthiness in real-time.

In the old days of three dimensional friendship, you might discover some unsavory elements of a friend after spending two or three afternoons or evenings together, in different situations, with various combinations of mutual acquaintances. Now, you can discover if someone’s a dolt in 140 characters or less. It’s like truth serum with a keyboard. I’ve now hit double digits on the number of people I have unfriended due to their apparent round-the-clock playing of pointless mafia, farming, or aquarium games on Facebook.

So sure we have less faith in our “friends” than we used to. But, unlike AdAge, I certainly don’t see that as a shortcoming of social media, because the same study showed (as pointed out by the always awesome Shiv Singh) that our trust in EVERYTHING has gone down.

Lying By the Seat of Our Pants

Reexamine the chart above. Trust in TV news? Down 20%+. Trust in radio news? Down 20%. Trust in newspapers? Down 20%. What’s interesting and depressing is that our trust in everything measured in this study has diminished by almost exactly the same rate. That’s not an indictment of social media and its relationship-building, it’s an indictment of veracity.

And really, is that a surprise either? In the last year, I’ve been lied to at various times by the President, Congress, my family, clients, Tiger Woods, Toyota, the Catholic Church, the local school board, and at least one Olson twin (but I can’t remember which). What this Edelman research demonstrates is that we’ve become a bunch of cynics, and who could blame us?

That’s why it’s more important than ever for companies (in social media or otherwise) to embrace the truth. It used to be that scandalous lies got talked about. Now, authenticity and acknowledgement of shortcomings is an incredibly effective marketing and communications approach (see Dominos, as I wrote about here).

In the land of the liars, the truth-teller is king.

Facebook Comments


  1. says

    great observation Jay. I think now is an opportunity for people and companies to embrace a level of transparency and honesty that hasn't been seen in long time. The values of accountability and truthfulness will set you apart from the masses. Of course I wonder how much patience many will have, considering the effort involved in building trust?

  2. says

    I'm not sure if the research tells us anything we didn't already know, Jason. In real life, we trust a chosen few, while we consider the opinion of others. The others may “break through” into the trusted circle by action and consistency; but until then we only trust the opinion of those that have earned our trust. Why would this be any different online?

    I think it's more a matter of trusting less people as opposed to less trust in people overall. There's a difference.

    Cheers :)

  3. says

    Appreciate your two cents on this, Jason – it's a good reminder that just b/c something looks and walks like a duck doesn't necessarily mean that it's a duck indeed. There's a lot of folks out there claiming to be this and that or just simply puffing up their expertise with the help of smoke and mirrors. You can see alot of this in the 'green living' industry – folks call it greenwashing. Thsi is kinda like that since you really have to vet the REAL folks and the posers. And like Danny Brown noted (@DannyBrown), you've just gotta be that much more selective on who your 'real friends' are.

    Narciso Tovar
    Big Noise Communications

  4. says

    I always wondered what would happen if Mashable put out a headline like: “New Apple/Google 4G Super Smart Mobile is Coming!” … and then the subsequent article explained to the actual readers that there is no such thing, and this was simply a test to see how many people actually read the articles before sending them to the people who are supposed to trust them as content aggregators and creators.
    How many times would this 'article' be re-tweeted? Between the pre-set bots, and the humanoids who decide to act like 'bots RT anything if the right blog (or blogger) curates it … I unfortunately think the #'s would be huge.

    It has become so easy to share, that 'trust' is THE main component of influencers. Not their #'s and reach, but are they trusted.

    Interesting post Jason.


  5. says

    Brilliant, Jay. the sushi line says it all. Well, almost.

    The Ambient Web connects me to people that I have a relationship with, or once did. Not all of those people will be relevant in helping me answer my questions about a product.

    I feel that once we dive down into the polling and the methodology, we'll find that the definition of “friend” for the purposes of these surveys will have contexts different enough to render the comparisons (and thus the “trend”) meaningless.

  6. kahuna7 says

    Jay, I don't normally comment on your posts (which I should) but I find myself redistributing your posts to my sphere of influence quite often because of how great your content has been now for about the last year. I don't know if you took the red pill or what, but whatever has spurred your last 12-16 months of phenomenal article writing and blog posting, PLEASE KEEP IT UP. Heart felt thank you for enlightment.

  7. Anonymous says

    Maybe we should list things where the level of ‘trust’ hasn’t fallen. Like, say gravity. It’s safe to say that most folks have the same trust in gravity as they did a few years back. And why? Because, unlike newspapers or bloggers or ‘friends,’ gravity has no agenda of its own. It’s a constant. It can be relied on 100% to do what gravity does. The other stuff? The intentions are surely pure, but because of mixed agendas, wires get crossed. Journalists fail to ask the tough questions, not because they’re not trustworthy, but because they don’t want to compromise access. And ‘friends’ (at least of the social media variety) offer their friendship conditionally.

    Jay, your post points out the importance of drawing the distinction between ‘trust’ and ‘truth.’ Truth can exist without trust, but trust cannot exist without truth.

  8. says

    I think the concepts of friend, fan and trust have to be redefined. There are people online that I regularly engage with, and although they may be “friends” they are certainly not FRIENDS. Trust gets played with all the time also. Some companies (such as Domino's which I also wrote about here: ) have gotten better at acting like they are all of those buzz words like transparent, human, conversational, engaging, etc. You know, kind of like “We are really not a transparent company, but we play one on YouTube.” I think it may be time for new words to be invented to differentiate “friend” vs. friend and “trust” vs. trust.

  9. says

    I heard about this yesterday I think… This just shows that what most people consider 'friends' these days (thanks to all the loose definition via social networks) is much greater and when they friend all these people they're getting hit with more spam and advertising… I think that's driving the trust down.
    I still see no dip in word-of-mouth referrals for my services…

    … update: now that I read the whole thing I notice you mentioned the same thing lol… good we see eye to eye… and mmm… sushi

  10. says


    “What’s interesting and depressing is that our trust in everything measured in this study has diminished by almost exactly the same rate”

    I agree with your suggestion that we just trust everything less (even ourselves?) and so it's not that we trust our friends any less relative to other sources, just that our benchmark for trust has changed.

  11. suzyoge says

    I'd like to see a category added here, “Experts”. I think many people look to trusted online resources for expertise.

    Thanks to social media, friends are often exposed as being liars or at least untrustworthy. This is especially true when you know the person offline too and can see the gap between reality and what they post online. For “Online Experts” the illusion can stay in tact. At least for now, until the next survey comes out;-)

  12. says


    Great stats for sure. Do you think that the lying plays more of a role than the recessed economy and the promise that it will get better and the economy will be strong again (as more and more people lose their jobs and houses). I think that when it really starts to hit home (yourself, friend and family) that people start to lose trust ans when we lose trust it runs the gamete. I would be curious to track this data and see what happens when times are good to see if there is a upward shift.

    Thanks so much for posting these stats. I love stats!

  13. says

    That's a good point. It's not that because of social media, trust has gone down. It's that sometime during the last few years, we've started to consider lying acceptable and that's been done at the cost of decreased trust.

    I now trust a few of my friends more than ever, but I don't confuse my friends with my Facebook friends.

  14. mikeeisele says

    News has been replaced by propaganda, so we all crave authenticity. How many brands or people do you know who are truly authentic?

  15. says

    I love this post Jay, but keep in mind what Edelman said just a year ago…ok, maybe two years ago. People actually trust employees.

    You describe faceless organizations. On of the keys to success we are seeing is that companies stop being faceless and start freeing their humans they gain a ton of credibility. Edelman said that “employees are 5 times more credible than CEO bloggers”

    And it makes sense right? Who better to help me buy a flat screen TV than the employee who sees 100 customers a week? Understands not only the products, but has seen enough customer scenarios to help guide the right match.

    No matter what the company, you generally hire smart people who like their jobs, like the customers and want to add value to their relationships. Free Them!

  16. says

  17. chuckfranks says

    First I don't trust the survey. Less that 5K participants, all college educated, high income, and getting news from 3 media sources a day. Secondly I don't trust the source. A company who sells it's self as someone you should hire to help you with trust.

    I think this is hype. Are there trends to be looked at sure. Are all the distinctions people are making valid, who are “friends” excellent points made by many.

    Surveys need to be duplicated to show a trend. All I saw at their site is a lot of marketing about their survey and how it impacts you and “OMG” hire us to help you keep from loosing everyone's trust.

    I'm not drinking the juice yet.

  18. Mauricio Lemus says

    Jay, you're absolutely right about people becoming ever more skeptical round the world. It's scary to think that you can't trust anybody or anything, especially governments. I think this situation is very damaging for society, for skepticism derives in total apathy and once this sets in, the bad guys can do their thing more freely.

  19. says

    Jay: Completely agree w/ your points on the study not indicating that information from friends and peers had become any less valuable.

    In fact, I remember reading this ad age article when it came out in January and there were a few major flaws in Ad Age’s description of the 2008 vs 2010 survey results:

    1) The 2008 study polled global respondents on the question “How credible do you think the following are in providing information on a company”. The 2010 survey polled only US respondents (who tend to be considerably more cynical).

    2) Even if they were comparing two similar groups geographically, the numbers are still completely distorted – ironically, eroding the credibility of Ad Age as an information source – but the “25%” they highlight is derived by comparing a group of 25-35 yr olds in 2008 to a group of 35-64 year olds in 2010. When comparing the group of 25-35 year olds in 2008 to 2010 – the % change is only 16% – not 25%.

  20. letstalkandchat says

    If you’re looking for webinar software, then check out Evergreen Business System. Its perfect for marketers and let’s you automate the scheduling of your webinars, build your list, and even follow up with your webinar registrants. If you’re going to buy Evergreen Business System, then you might as well get a free bonus! So check out and you’ll get a great bonus that tells you how to create a webinar, what is a webinar, and a blueprint for making a successful one. None of the other people offering bonuses are offering this. Hurry in case the guy (some dude that worked on Lord of the RIngs) offering the bonus decides to pull it down.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *