People trust strangers more than they trust friends?

Take a look at this article by Erin Mulligan Nelson published a few days ago in AdAge.  Essentially it deals with trust and the so-called Millennial age group – i.e. those people who have most comfort and familiarity in using social media tools.  I am uncomfortable with Erin’s assertion that brands need to host a “killer party that (millennials) won’t want to miss” – partly because I am not quite sure what that party would look like – indeed if it would even look like a party.  But I do endorse the activities that she recommends, especially the idea that brands need to “offer ways for them (millennials) to share their opinions on your brand; and make it easy for them to find “expert” opinions on your products.”  The reason for this is that research that her company, Bazaarvoice, has produced, shows that when it comes to purchase decisions, millennials trust strangers more than they trust friends – provided they can have an assurance that these strangers have relevant knowledge. (Summary of that research here, full report here.)

My take on this is not that they are trusting strangers over friends, which appears counter-intuitive.  Rather, they are trusting a process which allows them to determine that the views or opinions of a stranger are relevant and credible and it highlights what I think is one of the defining shifts of the social media revolution – the shift of trust from institutions to processes.  It is like Wikipedia – you trust an article based on how much trust you place on the process that has produced that article.  You don’t trust the institution of Wikipedia per se, because as an institution it doesn’t really exist – it is community of millions of people all tied together via a process.  Wikipedia is not an institution, it is a process and you trust it on that basis.

Adapting to the world where trust is not institutionalised based on who or what you are (a brand , a friend, a government) but is based on process (making what you do visible and open to critique) is one of the key challenges for any brand.  It is about the importance of understanding the concept of communities of interrogation – the places or spaces that people go to ask questions. These are the spaces within which brands have to live – not on platforms such as Facebook or Twitter



  1. Pingback: Trust Amongst Strangers: Groups vs The Individual | The Psych Life
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