Trust, Skepticism, and Corporate Blogging

A short rant

I try not to hate, but sometimes it’s hard not to hate about some things. I hate being lied to. I hate being lied about. I hate being gossipped about. I hate someone making false assumptions about me based upon a scant modicum of information or even a lack of information. I hate being blamed for being the messenger. I hate being blamed for the words or actions of someone else.

I hate when people refuse to listen. I hate when people refuse to engage in an actual conversation. I hate when people see the world in black and white, and ignore the possibility of gray. I hate when people are so caught up in themselves that they forget about the feelings of others. I hate when people blame others for something without considering their own part, or taking responsibility for it. I hate when someone tries to manipulate me.

I hate when people who have been working and publishing online for a while look down on newcomers, and don’t cut them some slack for mistakes that they might make. I hate when online newcomers look down on those who have been online for a while, and don’t cut them some slack for mistakes that they have made.

I hate when businesses do these things. I hate when consumers do these things, too.

I don’t believe I’m alone in my hatred for these things.

What is there to do about this hatred? How can that hatred be taken and used to build something constructive?

I’m a big fan of the The ClueTrain Manifesto, and I think it holds some ideas that businesses should consider carefully when it comes to conversations and trust.

Blogs, Journalism, and Online Surveys

Bloggers aren’t journalists, but there may be some things that bloggers can learn from journalists (and likely that journalists could learn from bloggers). If you haven’t read it, a thoughtful exploration of that topic is available in a free online book: We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People. Another article worth looking at is A Few Thoughts on Journalism and What Can Weblogs Do About It.

One approach that I like to use here when writing about search and search engines is to try to find primary resources, such as patents or whitepapers, and link to them when I discuss them, so that people can go to the original.

I’ve never been a fan of surveys or polls, especially if they are conducted in an unscientific manner. I tend to view them with a great deal of skepticism. What is an unscientific poll? What are the dangers of trusting a poll, even if it is is a scientific one? What should you consider when you are writing about a poll or survey. I came across this document a few years ago, and it helped me think about whether or not I should trust some polls, and what I should consider when reading them:

20 Questions A Journalist Should Ask About Poll Results

A scientific survey could possibly give you some insight into how a broad range of people might feel about a topic, and the people selected to participate in such a survey are carefully chosen to represent a wide audience. In an unscientific survey, the people participating aren’t chosen in a meaningful way, but often are self selected. What that means is that an unscientific survey only tells you about the opinions of people who participated in the poll itself, and not of a wider audience.

When I see people writing about a survey or poll conducted, as “proof” of a proposition that they then go on to give advice upon, I find myself wanting to find out who conducted the survey, who participated and how they were selected, what questions they were asked and how were those questions written, what order the questions were presented in, and more. This is true regardless of whether the writer is a blogger, a journalist, or a marketer. See the short rant above about being lied to and manipulated.

How many blogs do you trust completely?

If you’re like me, you take what you read with a bit of skepticism. That doesn’t just apply to corporate blogs, but also magazines, books, emails, patents, the backs of cereal boxes, and most other printed materials.

When Jeremiah Owyang wrote about the results of a survey on his blog that indicated that only 16 percent of consumers trust what they read on corporate blogs (Consumers Say Your Corporate Blog is Not Trusted), I wanted to see the survey myself. I guess that I tend to trust surveys even less than it seems (from this survey) consumers trust corporate blogs.

I wanted to see who the survey came from, the reason for the creation of the survey, who the people were who were surveyed, what incentive they were given to participate, what the focus of the survey was, and other foundational elements of the survey that could let me consider whether or not I should trust it. Fortunately, the company behind the survey, Forrester Research, Inc., does make the questions used in the survey available, though a little hard to find.

The survey question asked people how much they trusted different sources of information, with the question: “How much do you trust the following information sources?” People could answer the question by choosing from a range of numbers from 1 to 5, with the words “Don’t Trust at All” over the numbers 1 and 2, and the words “Trust Completely” over the numbers 4 and 5.

A 4 or 5 answer was used in the analysis of that answer to indicate that people trusted the sources of information. Company blogs only received 4 or 5 answers 16 percent of the time, and personal blogs had received a 4 or 5 only 18 percent of the time.

Blogging didn’t fare very well under the survey, regardless of whether the blog was from a company or was personal.

Of course, Forrester is in the business of performing research to sell that research to clients, and to provide advice on steps to take based upon that research. There are some very good suggestions for corporations to follow in their announcement of that research from Josh Bernoff in his Forrester blog post: People don’t trust company blogs. What you should do about it.

There are also some very thoughtful comments in response to that post, which might poke and prod the research methods used a little, but mostly agree that there are many things that companys can do to improve the trust that consumers might place in them.

Resources on Corporate Blogging

The suggestions from Jeremiah and Josh on their posts are worth spending some serious time with. If you have a corporate blog, or people who have their own blogs who work for your business, it wouldn’t hurt to pass links to those posts along, and to even consider some additional sources. Here are a few more that I found interesting:

Criticism of me and SEO by the Sea

I also want to include a post from a friend, who shares her thoughts on this topic from the perspective of a consumer who wanted to learn more about internet marketing and search engine optimization:

Why SEO/M/SM RockStars & Corp Blogs Can’t Establish Consumer TRUST

I know for certain that she shares many of the points I raised in my rant at the start of this post, and she includes a criticism of me in her post.

I’m listening, and I hope that she and I can talk about it some more, and see if something positive can come out of her experience.

I agree with her thoughts in a subsequent post that she wrote that ideas like those expressed in the following post from Search Engine People need to be much more widespread: When Does Reputation Management Become Unethical? The Case for a Code of Ethics!

I’m going to be contacting the author of that post to share ideas on a Code of Ethics for Reputation Management.

Added: My friend Kimberly left a lengthy and thoughtful comment in Jeremiah’s original post (no way to link to comments directly), that raised a number of points about corporate blogging, and the conversation between businesses and consumers, which Jeremiah broke down into categories in a followup post from Jeremiah – Health Check: How Trusted Is Your Corporate Blog?


Author: Bill Slawski

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