Trust is a complex beast

Newsworks' Denise Turner addresses how trust should be understood as a metric as it is a decision based on “familiarity, expectation and risk”, in a piece first published by Mediatel.

I don't know about you but I look forward to reading Mills on Monday on Mediatel each week. Dominic always brings a new and refreshing perspective to the issues of the day and doesn’t mince his words. He tackles issues that the industry needs to address, and says what needs to be said. So it was with interest I read last week’s edition with its focus on trust and his call for the industry to pay for trusted quality sources of content.

Trust is a really hard metric to measure, partly because everyone has different opinions about what it means but also because there are conflicting views on what is happening with trust. There is a perfect illustration in the piece itself. Dominic believes that trust in many areas, including media and platforms is slipping away – a very common statement these days and not exclusive to him. Yet a few paragraphs later, he says that legacy media are by and large trusted by consumers.

So it is clear – and we agree with Dominic here – that more research is needed to unpick trust and what it really means, to prove the value of quality content sources.

Dominic called for a cross-industry initiative to create a Trust Quotient and flatteringly suggested that we at Newsworks and Magnetic could lead the way. Pooling resources is indeed one way of approaching it, but not the only solution. We believe there is power in the process of research triangulation where multiple studies (usually three but can be more) approach the same question from different angles. The beauty of this way of looking at a problem is that you know if the results all point in the same direction and provide a consistent story, then it is much more likely to be robust and true. 

We believe triangulation is really important while we're trying to unpick what trust means. A series of studies investigating the issue can only serve to further our understanding and get us closer to what a Trust Quotient might look like. So we welcome the work that Magnetic are doing with Mediacom North to quantify the value of the environment in media, to understand the importance of trust in the context of media brands and channel. It will add to the already significant body of evidence from all trade bodies about the value of proven media and the importance of where messages are placed.

It won't surprise you to know that we're also working on the trust issue. As with any research project that is embarked upon, we don't know yet what the results might be, and of course we can't share anything yet. 

But here are just a few thoughts that have shaped our exploration.  We've scoured far and wide – and back into the depths of history – for thinking on trust that we can apply to 21st century media.

German sociologist Niklas Luhmann, one of the most prominent societal thinkers of the last century believed trust is a decision, one that is taken on the basis of familiarity, expectation and risk. Applying this to our particular part of the media, people trust the newspaper they read because they are familiar with it, they have an expectation of what they will get from it, and they know the risks are low, if they choose to trust it.  The same could be said of the radio station people listen to, the magazine they read, the TV programme they watch. 

We believe this underlines why so much research on trust is flawed, because it asks the wrong questions and doesn't take account of the relationship people have with the individual station, publication and programme. It also doesn't take account of expertise – in other words, what you trust people, media, and institutions for. 

Let's illustrate that with an example. I have a few financial products and I also love baking. So I would trust Martin Lewis for advice on the former, but not sure I'd take his advice on the best cake tin to buy to make a bundt cake. That would be Mary Berry for me! My husband might trust Henry Winter to assess the prospects of Crystal Palace staying in the Premier League next season (it's a close thing it would seem given this season's performance).  I'm not sure he would trust Henry to give advice how to grow strawberries. I could go on but you get my point: trust is a complex beast, made up of many factors. 

So watch this space for the work that we and Magnetic are doing, I'm confident it will add to the body of evidence that proves that proven media offer the best possible place for advertisers to place their messages, building their brands and businesses in both the short and the long-term.

One final point from me, this issue of trust is the collective responsibility of the industry, sellers and buyers.  We on the media owner side, are providing the proof and evidence, agencies must assess and use that evidence wisely to build their clients' businesses. I would urge agencies to look at all the evidence that already exists, and we look forward to adding to that. 

This piece was first published by Mediatel.  

People trust the newspaper they read because they are familiar with it, they have an expectation of what they will get from it, and they know the risks are low, if they choose to trust it.

Denise Turner, insight director, Newsworks
by Denise Turner 26/05/17

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