Trustiness: Forrester’s Report on Corporate Blogs

by Marianne Richmond on December 13, 2008

Josh Bernoff recently released a report entitled “Time to Re-Think Your Corporate Blogging Ideas” and wrote a blog post with the provocative title People Don’t Trust Company Blogs. What You Should Do About It.

Although I agree with Josh’s recommendations to corporations on how to use blogs most effectively which begins on page five in the section called “When and How to Blog for Business”, I had a few issues with the research itself as well as a concern that his recommendations would be overshadowed by the highlight (or low light) of the report: 16% of online consumers trust blogs. This is “lower than any other channel”.

I just didn’t see enough in the report that defined this “consumer”, defined what kind of information that they were seeking and exactly what they didn’t trust about the information source. But in the meantime…

If you tune in to Twitter unfortunately what is being passed along is “consumers don’t trust blogs.”

The pros and cons of corporate blogging especially accompanied by research from Forrester is always a surefire blog conversation starter and this time when the trust data was so well, shall we say unflattering? was no exception.

There were lots of blog posts ….

The Blog Council noted that they were not surprised by the Forrester data that indicated that only 16% of online consumers trusted blogs, referenced their Disclosure Best Practices Toolkit and highlighted a number of blogs that they considered trustworthy. Nothing to disagree with here except the lack of surprise regarding the 16%. Frankly, I was surprised which is what made me look more closely at the research report.

Jeremiah wrote three blog posts discussing trust and corporate blogging. The first really just highlighted the findings but the second, Health Check: How Trusted Is Your Blog? is an insightful 8 step guide to effective blogging, corporate or personal that if followed will indeed produce a healthy, trusted blog.

The third, So Who Do Consumers Trust? focuses on that part of Figure 1 which indicates that “people trust each other.” This is well worth highlighting….in fact it relates back to one of the key benefits to effective corporate blogging that we discuss with our clients: By blogging, you can become one of those “each others” that people trust.

You can IF your company’s blog is a conversation with your customers not a press release from central casting by way of the legal department. Really, who is less trusted than advertisers? Lawyers.

And really, forgetting about the Forrester data for a moment, the point that the Blog Council and Jeremiah and Josh are trying to make is that writing an effective corporate blog is not built on a push strategy and if used in this manner will be viewed as trustworthy as advertising.

So…I asked Josh some of the questions that I had regarding the research report and he graciously responded.

Marianne: Did the results indicating such a low level of trust for corporate blogs surprise you? And is there an explanation within the research and/or do you have a hypothesis for why the trust level for blogs is lower than broadcast and print media, direct mail and email?

Josh: They shocked me – which is why I knew we had to publish this. I think people are saying “if it’s from a company, I don’t trust it” and being on a blog confers zero additional credibility. Among people who blog or read blogs regularly the level of trust is a little higher, which tells you that unfamiliarity with this channel may be contributing to the lack of trust.

Marianne: I was interested in the fact that 50% of consumers say they trust search engines/portals…so isn’t the results that one gets from a search engine regarding a company nothing more than a listing of the available information regarding the company, some (and frequently most) of which IS corporate blogs, websites, press releases and other company generated information? I see a bit of a disconnect with the lack of trust expressed in blogs and the vote of confidence in search engines.

Josh:Yes, but portals publish content. I think they are saying that what they see on Yahoo news or Google news is more credible. You have to be careful about overinterpreting these questions, which are exactly what they say they are – responses to questions on a survey.

Marianne: We frequently advise our clients that one of the benefits to corporate blogging is to communicate accurate information about the company…to be the “go to” source for information regarding brands. products or services. Part of this is a SEO strategy…blogging increases your visibility in a search.

Josh: Blogging only raises your SEO if people link to your blog, which depends on the level of quality of the blog. So just blogging is not enough.

Marianne: I also noticed that corporate web sites didn’t seem to be included in the list of “information sources” and I wondered why. And as an aside…I found the inclusion of “Yellow Pages” as an information source kind of odd….I realize there is advertising in the Yellow Pages but isn’t the primary information that people are after the address, phone number and the kinds of services/products for a business?

Josh: This question is expanded from a previous question in media, which included Yellow Pages. In the future we will ask about corporate Web sites. These are good suggestions.

Marianne: Blog readers were defined as those reading blogs once a month or more which seemed to me to be pretty infrequent. I assume there is a breakout someplace of frequency so I was just curious about the weighting…and the trust level for more frequent blog readers for bother person and company blogs.

Josh: We had to make the cutoff somewhere. Someone who reads blogs at least once a month at least knows what they are. The more frequent blog readers are in general likely to be more trusting.

Marianne: Also, does the proliferation of blogs on newspaper and magazine sites and as pages on corporate sites confuse the consumer in regards to the definition of a blog….in other words, is the blogger for the NYT seen in a different light than a columnist and is the corporate blogger found from the navigation bar or whose blog is within the company website distinguishable to the consumer and would this possible lack of clarity influence the data within the research or said a different way: how precise was the research in regards to the definition of a company blogs?

Josh: I think the real problem is not the proliferation of legitimate blogs but the proliferation of crappy blogs. If you picked a blog at random, it is much more likely to be a splog or a clueless person than anything credible. This is not to denigrate the millions of credible blogs out there but for every Huffington Post there are 1000 that are not credible. I think that is the source of the skepticism for blogs, which is transferred over even to corporate blogs.

Marianne: I was also curious as to whether or not there was anything in the research that separated company blogs that allowed comments versus those that did not….if so was there any difference in the trust score for this variable?

Josh: We didn’t ask about that. In general, the more real and open you are, the more people are likely to trust you. Just recognize that it’s an uphill battle – that’s the real takeaway from our research.

Marianne: Thanks, Josh…one last question. As mentioned, I agree with your recommendations about how to make a more “trustwothy” blog but within the research is there a question that addresses “why” people don’t trust blogs and delineates the type of information people are seeking from blogs.

Josh: No, we didn’t ask that. This research was not just about blogs, it was about information sources in general, blogs included.

For the most part, I was disappointed in Josh’s answers and by this I mean that his answers confirmed what was lacking about the research:

The questions and the choices of responses were so generalized that the likelihood of accuracy was almost unavoidable, e.g. how much do you trust the following information sources? what is the definition of “an information source”….the Yelow Pages is a source of information about business phone numbers and addresses which in some cases contains advertising. Are we talking about the contact info or the advertising? Search engines? Are we talking about search engines which use blogs and websites to provide information or as Josh answered, Google News?

There were other questions…

Max Kalehoff at Attention Max and in comments on Josh’s post questioned the relevance of the data, writing, “Their value are not proxied well by prompted survey questions among general consumer populations. Their value is defined by the trust developed among engaged niches over time — such as with very specific customer and industry relationships.”

Peter Kim also commented on Josh’s post, “You still have three variables mixed together that should be isolated and potentially produce a strong case for “why.” There’s channel, content type, and creator – examining these more closely will lead you in the right direction. The Edelman Trust Barometer does a great job here. So does Universal McCann’s Tracking survey.”

Pete also notes the overararching issue: Consumers don’t trust advertising.

So…if you haven’t, read Josh’s report. Be prepared for when your clients use it as another reason not to blog and point out his great suggestions for effective blogging. And read the Groundswell and/or give it to your clients as a holiday gift.

Related, Toby Bloomberg has a great post on Digital Relationships which includes a survey asking “Please share your One Secret on how you build trusted digital relationships using social media. I’ve set a brief survey in Survey Monkey to collect responses. I’ll let it run for about a week .. analyze the responses and post to Diva Marketing.”

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