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Don’t believe what you read offline: UK surfers trust online news

Posted by Danny Whatmough on 28th May 2010

We are all now confronted by more and more ‘media’ on a daily basis than at any point in history. Whether it is the traditional press, Twitter or blogs, we have gone way past ‘information overload’ to total saturation point.

But with so much media on offer, it is vital for brands (and their PR agencies) to know exactly which channels work best for which audience. In that way efforts can be focused on the media that are mosthe t appropriate to realise the objectives for a particular campaign or activity.

I was interested then to read some new research from Ofcom, which reveals that, for the first time, British web users say they trust online news sources more than television bulletins and newspapers. Although both were pipped to the post by radio (66%), 58% said they trusted online news and 54% believed TV the most. People aged 25 to 34 were by far the most confident that TV news was accurate, with women more convinced than men.

On the back of what was a fiercely contested general election, you have to wonder how much the obvious bias of the Murdoch press potentially affected these figures. The press was deemed the least trustworthy medium, with more adults saying they thought newspapers were unreliable than said they believed in them.

So what does this mean for businesses and PRs?

First, a few health warnings. The first point to make is that trust doesn’t necessarily equal influence. The second is that this is a widespread consumer survey and so the conclusions are painted with a very broad brush. It would be fascinating to drill down into specific audiences for example and see if the figures altered at all.

But, in general, we can use this as evidence that the online world is continuing to dominate our everyday lives and is becoming increasingly influential over everything from political viewpoints, buying decisions and industry thought-leadership.

I also wonder to what extent social media is having an effect here. Networks like Twitter and Facebook, not to mention bloggers, are quicker than ever to pick up on inaccuracies that are reported by the traditional media, giving a unique and immediate spin on what used to be trusted sources.

Unfortunately, the survey doesn’t tell us whether we trust our communities on social media more than traditional media outlets, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we did. It  does reveal  however that almost half of the UK population has created a profile on a social networking site, and adds that adults were becoming more savvy about who they befriend online. It also said the proportion of internet users with a social networking profile had doubled since 2007.

The media landscape is increasingly fragmented and is constantly changing. All this means is that the audience-centric approach that we take here at Wildfire is more important than ever, making sure the right channels are used in the right way for your business.

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