With the Presidential election heating up, scrutiny over media coverage of the high-profile race is also getting hot. People have long distrusted media outlets they see as opposing their specific views, but the recent cover story in New York Magazine notes that media trust is now at a historic low. A poll released last year shows that only 21 percent of Americans trust television news and 20 percent trust newspapers. For comparison, the only institutions that Americans trust less are Congress and “big business.” This is a huge shift from the days of Woodward and Bernstein when roughly 70 percent of Americans trusted their media sources.
While trust in media ebbs and flows, we public relations practitioners must be keenly aware of these fluctuations. Since the media are often one of our main vehicles to reach consumer audiences, this ebb in trust could dilute the value of media as our messenger to deliver key stories, updates and perspectives.
So who can we trust and who can we turn to? The answer could lie in our social/digital influencers. The New York Magazine article mentions that social media activity has recently forced traditional media’s hand at covering topics and stories they may have otherwise ignored, showing a great collective power that should not be overlooked. Since social influencers are not tied to specific outlets or media “machines”, they often come with the added benefit of being seen as more trustworthy and authentic to their individual readers. In fact, recent research conducted by inVentiv Health and the Institute for Public Relations showed that people are most likely to seek information from peers (other consumers) via online product reviews when considering an item and they are also most likely to trust that source over all others, including traditional media.
As social media influencers gain mainstream traction it will become increasingly important for us to engage them in our brand and disease state narratives. In healthcare, many disease categories have seen a rise in online influencers including physicians and patient opinion leaders cultivating large followings, usually made up of our target audiences. If our audiences are paying attention, then we should too.