Who do you trust?

April 29, 2008 at 8:15 pm 1 comment

Chris Scott

PR professionals and marketers rely on a variety of media sources to get our clients’ names and accomplishments in front of business leaders that may be in a position to hire them. And smart business leaders are influenced on those decisions by information gleaned from traditional media as well as online sources.

But it appears that our next generation of business leaders is more willing to accept homegrown – or unverified – information than ever before. In fact, the 25-to-34 demographic ranks the online do-it-yourself encyclopedia Wikipedia as one of the top-trusted sources of information available anywhere. It has had profound implications for the way agencies do business.

This is the message from the Edelman PR’s 2008 Trust Barometer. The survey showed generally higher levels of trust in all forms of media among the “younger elites” than their older counterparts. That included articles in business magazines, television coverage, newspaper articles, company-issued communications, blogs and online message boards.

To me, this raises a huge red flag. The line between researched, documented fact in a journalistic product vs. opinion, counter-opinion and speculation offered by many online venues apparently is becoming blurred. And this is the generation that will be in positions of power within the next two decades.

For every well-researched Wikipedia entry like the one on General Electric Co., there are others that are either incomplete or just plain poorly researched and written. These entries are generally noted by warnings about a lack of sourcing or questionable sourcing at the top of the entry, but doesn’t that make the information that’s there even more suspect? (It must be noted that the site’s managers also seem to be proactive about disruptive edits.

And this is the information source that the next generation of business and political leaders trusts the most right now? Should PR and marketing professionals take advantage of this situation and pump up the volume on client achievements? Where do ethics come in when it comes to using a proven method to reach this group?

This former journalist finds it appalling to think that the level of healthy skepticism toward any source of information is on the decline. Questioning information, whether from company sources or from newspaper or magazine articles, is as critical to making smart decisions as it’s ever been.

Wikipedia’s standing as the most trusted information source by this group could have repercussions for our businesses. An unscrupulous agency might be tempted to create faux entries to boost the profile of a client, relying on whatever impact the entry might make before it is removed or revised. Or clients might request that agencies create entries for this express purpose as yet another “news outlet.”

Participating in the Wikipedia concept isn’t the problem here. The potential for abuse along with the lack of that “grain of salt” skepticism among this particular demographic is. Let’s hope that Wikipedia managers remain vigilant and that our future leaders develop a healthy skepticism that’s needed when it comes to information sources.

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Entry filed under: Diabloguer.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Bruce  |  May 2, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    I think the new generation has MORE than a healthy grain of salt skepticism.

    In fact, quite the opposite.

    They don’t REALLY believe ANYTHING they hear any more. They’ve been lied to… so much, for so long, by nearly everyone… especially marketers and advertising… that they doubt EVERYTHING.

    Many of them seem to think that FACTS are only one person’s OPINION.

    That there’s no such thing any more as a defacto fact.

    I’ve heard them say things like, “Well that’s YOUR reality. I am entitled to my OWN reality.” …whatever that means.

    If they fail to speak up and argue against something they don’t believe… It’s not because they buy into it.

    It’s because they are also filled with apathy about it.

    Reply

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