Is social media considered unreliable?

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To trust or not to trust – that is the question! When it comes to the Internet, it’s an interesting one.

The Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California recently reported some surprising findings, if not some head-scratching contradictions. For example, the report says that 75 percent of Internet users say it’s an important source of information. That’s generally what we’ve come to accept as true. Ah, but then this contradiction – a significant number of people don’t necessarily deem what they see online as reliable!

According to CDF, overall trust in the Internet has increased slightly in its current study. But, while 75 percent say the Internet is a great source of information, only 45 percent said they have either some or a lot of trust in the Internet. And, a significant 15 percent of respondents said they trust only a small portion or none of the Internet. That has more than doubled from the 7 percent that previously cited the Internet as unreliable.

CDF has been surveying some 2,000 households annually for the past 12 years, the longest continuous study of its kind. CDF’s timing couldn’t have been better as the Internet has particularly blossomed this past decade. What’s more, social media like Facebook and Twitter, among others, have literally dazzled us while mobile technologies have recently advanced at mind-bending speed. Notable, however, is that it’s the social media for which mistrust ranks particularly high. A majority of Internet users have almost no faith that the information they find on social networking sites is reliable and accurate.

According to CDF director Jeffrey I. Cole, the mistrust of social networks stems as much from the fact that people aren’t really looking for reliability there. Instead, they want to be on the social networks to . . . well, socialize (post photos and send friends updates) or as a source of information and participation in social/community causes. So, for boat dealers who have angst about not having a social media program up and running, it’s time to relax. It’s apparent that sharing information about boating’s social lifestyle could be a great fit, but if you think using social media to sell products is the goal, the CDF study indicates it would likely be wasted effort.

Interestingly, Cole noted government websites get a high reliability rating. (That makes me chuckle since government, in general, seemingly gets bagged by everyone these days!) In 2010, 79 percent of Internet users rated content on government sites as reliable. More specifically, when it comes to privacy, people are more concerned about businesses than the government. In the survey, 48 percent claimed they are “worried” about companies tracking what they do online on the Internet. Meanwhile, only 38 percent were concerned about government watching them online.

From Cole’s findings, then, it would seem important for all boat dealers who have websites and any Internet marketing programs to reassure visitors that maintaining privacy is something they can count on. Having and emphasizing a privacy policy that viewers can read has become increasingly important.

Overall, dealers concerned that they may be missing marketing opportunities because they don’t have a social media program in operation (the majority of dealers don’t, I believe) can draw from CDF’s work that social media currently has definite limits. It’s social and that’s the best way to use such media. As for sales information on products and services, it’s not wanted or trusted by most users.

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