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Understanding dimensions of consumer trust to build media engagement

May 5, 2021 | By Rande Price, Research Director – DCN @Randeloo

It has been frequently said, but it bears repeating: Consumer trust in media is alarmingly low. There is a great deal of speculation around why that might be the case. However, two new research studies — from Reuters Institute and The American Press Institute — dig into the topic. They explore dimensions of consumer trust, their impact on consumer engagement with digital news brands, and unexpected opportunities to engage.

Reuters Institute: What Trust in News Means to Users

The Reuters Institute study explores how consumers think about the attributes of trust for digital news brands. Reuters, spoke with 132 consumers in Brazil, India, the U.K., and the U.S. Focus groups were used to capture conversations and general impressions about trust in news brands.

Important attributes

The Reuters study identifies familiarity, reputation, and likeability as the top attributes driving the perceived trustworthiness of news brand. Interestingly, the findings suggest that familiarity with a given brand is closely linked to the consumer’s impression of a brand’s reputation.

Importantly, the researchers leveraged focus groups to provide insight into the context of each attribute. For example. a news brand’s reputation often develops over time. It can also be determined by a consumer’s historical relationship (i.e., “known in my youth” or “the brand my father respected”). However, consumers can mistakenly think longevity is the same as reputation. A brand’s standing over time does not necessarily equate to quality news reporting, however.

Additional values of trusted news brands include objectivity, impartiality, and balance. Significantly, Reuters’ analysis shows that “subjectivity” can also shape attributes of trust. Respondents note that personal differences frame how people interpret the news. They believe this can be true of journalists as well. Because they see a potential for bias, many consumers generally distrust news as a way to shield themselves from being misinformed.

Further, the research notes that consumers are confused by (or unfamiliar with) the news process. They do not fully understand the difference between hard news and editorial reporting, or (in some cases) even entertainment and opinion. This research reinforces the power of the brand. It also highlights an opportunity for news publishers to guide consumers in their content consumption and in understanding of the digital news process.  Possibly, aligning these two in terms of marketing and messaging offers a way to increase understanding and build trust.

The American Press Institute: Studying Moral Values to Understand Trust in the News Media

The American Press Institute’s (API) study analyzes how consumers’ moral values align with journalism values to drive trust in digital news brands. API conducted this study across two surveys with over 5,000 U.S. consumers.

Journalism values represent ideas such as holding those in power accountable for their actions. The API research explores the relationship between consumers’ moral values and their views toward central principles of journalism. They found that not all Americans universally embrace many of the core values that guide journalistic inquiry.

Core journalism values:

  1. Oversight: monitor powerful people and the public
  2. Transparency: information is out in the open and the public knows what is happening
  3. Factualism: facts bring us closer to the truth
  4. Giving voice to the less powerful: amplify the voices of people who are not heard
  5. Social criticism: placing a spotlight on a community’s problems

Among consumers, the two most popular values are factualism (67%) and giving a voice to the less powerful (50%). These are followed by oversight (46%), transparency (44%) and social criticism (29%). Interestingly, only one in 10 consumers (11%) support all five of the core values of journalism.

API found that stories resonate with individuals reflect moral values that align with their belief system. That said, API found that if a story is rewritten to include additional moral angles, it attracts a broader audience including those less trustful of news brands. Importantly, a broader appeal can help rebuild trust with skeptics. 

Opportunities to rebuild trust

Both Reuters’ and API’s research add new dimensions to understanding attributes of trust in order to drive consumer engagement for digital news brands. Reuters’ qualitative assessment across several different countries and cultures (that share a reliance on digital media) adds additional scope to attribute definitions. The results are particularly telling in consumers’ subjective interpretation of accuracy. While most of those surveyed said information-accuracy was among the top factors determining whether an organization was worthy of trust, how they interpreted factual accuracy was highly subjective and variable.

API’s research makes it starkly clear that the things that journalism as a craft holds dear do not align with consumer priorities. This mismatch needs to be addressed in order to rebuild consumer trust. However, it is significant that the findings suggest potentially unexplored ways to garner broader public support without sacrificing core journalistic values.

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