Credibility and trust are critical for organizations seeking results from their web content. Credibility has the power to change people’s attitudes and spur action, whether it’s convincing them to adopt a positive view of an organization, change their point of view on an issue, sign up for a newsletter, or make a purchase.

Earning trust and maintaining credibility is harder than ever as Americans are spending more time online and getting content from more sources.

Do consumers consider online content trustworthy and reliable? It depends on who you ask. There are some bright spots as well as challenges ahead. Take a look at these research results.

Trends in Web Use and Content

Most Americans are going online now, and many are doing so constantly. There’s a lot of trust in brands and their internet ads, but only specific segments of the population trust content from the media.

Americans spend a lot of time online. Eight in 10 Americans go online every day, including 28% who go online almost constantly, 45% who say they’re online several times a day, and 9% who go online roughly once a day. — Pew Research Center

News consumption is increasing. Fifty percent of people surveyed consume news weekly or more often, and share or post content several times a month or more. That’s up 16% from two years ago. — 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer

Trust in online advertising is growing. Branded websites are the second-most-trusted advertising format behind recommendations from friends and family. Seventy percent of those surveyed say they completely or somewhat trust these sites. — Nielsen

Even with the growth of online ads, Americans still trust traditional channels more. About six in 10 say they trust ads on TV (63%), in newspapers (60%), and magazines (58%). — Nielsen

Specific demographics trust the media more than others. Black Americans, older Americans, people with higher levels of education, and those who live in the suburbs tend to trust and feel more connected to their preferred news source. — Trusting the News Media in the Trump Era, Pew Research Center

Web Content Challenges

In general, people are struggling with whether web content is reliable, and even say they’re worried or confused about digital content and fake news. But, consumers aren’t the only ones harmed by the infiltration of questionable content—brands could also take a hit to their reputations.

Overall, web content has a trust problem. Sixty-five percent of study participants say web content is “hit or miss” or “unreliable.” — Content Science, Content + Credibility Report

Fake news is confusing web users. Nearly two in three American adults (64%) say fabricated news stories cause a lot of confusion when it comes to the basic facts of current news and events. — Pew Research Center

Consumers worry about quality information. In the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, 57% agree that “The media I use are contaminated with untrustworthy information,” while 76% worry about “false information or fake news being used as a weapon.” — 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer

Unreliable news harms a brand’s credibility. Eighty-seven percent of news consumers agree that advertising on a news site associated with a fake news story damages a brand’s reputation. — Reuters

Influencer marketing is growing, but there’s a dark side. By 2022, the influencer marketing industry could be worth up to $15 billion, up from as much as $8 billion in 2019. But, the Federal Trade Commission is concerned that “fake accounts, fake likes, fake followers, and fake reviews are now polluting the digital economy, making it difficult for families and small businesses looking for truthful information.” — Federal Trade Commission

Americans struggle with digital literacy. Pew Research found that most adults in the U.S. have trouble correctly answering questions about digital literacy, topics like website encryption and who owns various social media platforms. — Pew Research Center

Looking Forward + Solutions

Private and nonprofit organizations, as well as the government, are closely examining online content creation and stepping in to ensure that it’s trustworthy. They’re enacting laws and using emerging technology to protect consumers.

Advertisers should be held accountable. In the U.S., 64% say companies should stop advertising with media platforms that fail to prevent the spread of fake news and false information. — 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer

The government is stepping in. The Federal Trade Commission is reviewing influencer and branded content, focusing on the role of large companies rather than individual influencers. In recent years, the FTC has charged companies like Lord & Taylor and Sunday Riley with deceiving the public. — Federal Trade Commission

Fact-checking groups are working to protect the truth. Organizations such as, Poynter Institute, Pew Research Center, and CDC Foundation are fighting disinformation online and advancing digital literacy. — Media Bias/Fact Check

Companies are turning to technology to help detect truth in content. One example is Reuters News Tracer, which uses machine learning algorithms to find breaking news on Twitter and assign it newsworthiness and confidence scores about the likely truthfulness of events. Reuters

Bottom Line

As online content continues to proliferate, and more people worldwide go online, credibility and trust will remain a challenge. What does this mean for content producers? According to the Content Science Content and Credibility Study, in terms of web content, “people face an experience not unlike looking for treasure in an ever-growing trash heap.” “If you want your organization to stand out from the heap, you must make your content more credible.”

The Author

Content Science partners with the world’s leading organizations to close the content gap in digital business. We bring together the complete capabilities you need to transform or scale your content approach. Through proprietary data, smart strategy, expert consulting, creative production, and one-of-a-kind products like ContentWRX and Content Science Academy, we turn insight into impact. Don’t simply compete on content. Win.

Last Updated: May 7, 2020

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