Trust in User Generated Content: Youth Say Yes, Adults Say No

by Marianne Richmond on April 9, 2006

Forrester has released a new study that says that although three fourths of on line adults  access user generated content their confidence in the content is declining; conversely, the over 90% of on line youth that access user generated content indicate that their trust in the content is increasing.

Forrester’s report on Social Computing concluded that technology had made the top down model obsolete, that value was in experience not ownership, and that power was shifting from institutions to communities. This report spoke of connected buyers with less brand loyalty, less trust in institutions and more reliance on peer-to-peer networks and user generated content.

User generated content is proliferating. Trust is important. Brad Feld in a post called, Its The Trust Stupid says there are three principles for user generated content, trust, attention and relevance.

So if trust in user generated content among adults is declining but increasing among the young what does this mixed message mean?

Here is some of the available data on user generated content among the young and among adults:

Teens Create Content
: An earlier study by Intelliseek indicated that Teens lead all segments in the creation of CGM; almost 30% of teens send photos via mobile devices, 45% have created a blog, and almost 10% subside to RSS feeds.

Young consumers rely on friends and families for purchase recommendations:
According to an earlier Forrester study, 50% of youth rely on advice from those they know and 65% report giving recommendations or information regarding products to others.

Social Networking sites are user generated content.  YouTube users add 35,000 videos each day and viewers view 30 million videos each day according to Newsweek.
My Space is the 7th most popular English language website. If you need more data, see If You Don’t Get MySpace, You’re a Lametard at Mashable! or The Site That Ate the Blogosphere at Mobile Jones and Blogher.

MMOG (Massive Multi-Player Online Games) are user generated content. Participation is growing dramatically. There are 10 million people playing. They defy any preconceived demos one might have about gamers being young and male.  Games such as Second Life The Sims, or The Movies are driven by the creation of user generated content. Included in the content development tools of MMOG  is advertising. Players have the ability to put up their own advertising in the games such as promotions of in-game events or businesses.

Forbes reports that Mind Ark, creator of Project Entropia, and the first advertising tool built into a game has announced a collaboration with the distributors of ads from Coca-Cola and Warner Brothers that will appear in over 100 games. Clickable Culture reports that the Coca-Cola "will make its first official appearance at a live music event as part of the corporations sponsorship of the event’s real-world counterpart." OK, I admit…I am a little confused here between the real world and the counterpart; nonetheless, user generated advertising content is part of the real world and part of this virtual world. Something like life imitating art, imitating life imitating art….Coke’s tagline becomes the virtual thing?

Politicians bypass the mainstream media and turn to blogs: According to the Salt Lake Tribune and increasing number of politicians are using blogs to provide information directly with their constituents. However, a trust warning is included, "Of course as blogs spread, readers need to understand what they are seeing and what is behind it…when searching for information on a candidate or a lawmaker, readers should be wary of what site they peruse because some information may be missing our skewed….some of these blogs are controlled by parties or by parties or by political candidates."  Yep, just like that other media source that we don’t trust.

User generated advertising seems to be everywhere. It is used by Jet Blue, Sony, MasterCard, Converse, and Tahoe. Results and opinions are mixed.

Consumer generated health and medical content have and important influence on decisions:A study by Cybercitizen Health (r) v5.0 indicates that consumers are increasing
relying on the Internet for health care decisions. They report a market of 99 million US adults. The Pew Internet & American Life Project confirms that direction but indicates that 52 million Americans or 55% of adults with Internet access use the Internet to get health or medical information. Regardless, the numbers are huge.

Importantly, Cybercitizen Health reports that there are a "small group of health
consumers (20 million)"  that have tremendous influence on those using the Internet for health information. They speak of a "zone of influence,  ranging from spouses, children and elderly parents to extended family and friends. In fact, other health consumers are very
likely to seek out advice from this group of highly influential health consumers, who are more likely than the average consumer to be using interactive media such as the Internet."

An aside, GE Healthcare joins and sponsors the delivery of consumer generated health care content. See also GE Imagination at Work.

So…there are many more data points indicating an increasing reliance on consumer generated content which doesn’t track with the reported decrease in trust among adults…at least as yet. In fact, a increase in reliance on user generated medical advice would indicate that adults are trusting the advice of their peers with something quite valuable….although a decline in trust measurement  might precede  an actual change in behavior.

The marketers who get the importance that consumers place upon the recommendations and opinions of their peers combined with the extent of the connections are already building new relationships with consumers and revising their marketing to foster collaboration and participation.

Clarence Fischer of Remote Access while drawing some comparisons between MMOG and classroom learning makes an interesting point about what makes these games
successful,   "For a game to be successful, the secret is often not to make the game better, but to make the community which surrounds the game better. Empower them. Give them responsiblities and the power to personalize their experience." This might also be applied to marketing within the context of social computing.

Cory Treffiletti
says that user generated content is a viable ad medium and makes the point that once a brand is in the public domain it belongs to the consumer, is controled by the consumer, and if they are provided with a sense of ownership for the brand and the ability to provide input that is responded to, will be  a successful brand; if not the brand will suffer the consequences. He refers to this as brand democratization and says it is the wave of the future.

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