Keep Social Honest research

Keep Social Honest research

Why transparency is key for brands to help build trust with consumers on social media...

Complex messaging, numerous channels and multiple devices. You've probably heard the same thing several times over, but there is no denying the fact that the transformation with how we both share and absorb information has developed tremendously over the past decade.

Technology and social media have advanced far beyond what we comprehended, and consumers are more immersed and more in control than ever before. As a result, the way businesses go to market and how they use social media to represent their brand also has to significantly change in order to keep up with their consumers. 

In 2014, we launched our research ‘Keep Social Honest’ which explored the path to positive engagement between brands and consumers on social media. This research identified transparency and trust to be the main barriers when trying to achieve this.

Today brands are still competing to be centre of attention as they crowd your social feeds with recommendations, endorsements, and advertising. We have witnessed the growth of review sites expanding far beyond what we anticipated, and the popularity of bloggers and vloggers have impacted this space by making reviews trendy. 

With all the changes that have occurred, we decided to revisit this research to find out what consumers now think of brands on social media. To gain a better understanding by taking a deeper dive into what steps brands need to take to ensure the integrity of their actions and interactions with customers online. To ensure they are transparent and honest in order to achieve the best return for their investment in social.

In order to achieve this, we commissioned research firm Censuswide to conduct this online survey throughout the month of April 2016. The survey was a nationally representative survey of 3,000 UK consumers to get a clear view of how consumers feel about brands online.

This article showcases what we discovered two years on from our original study, providing you with clear guidelines (top five tips) on how brands can ensure their online reputation is transparent and honest for both consumers and businesses alike.

Social media usage

The level of consumer engagement on social media has increased, with 39% of people saying they use social media more than they did last year. With new social channels coming to the forefront, consumers are being immersed into this online world more than ever before.  

It does what it says on the tin – the focus is still mainly social rather than work, with 78% of respondents saying they used social media more in their personal life in comparison to 12% in their business life.

While social networks have been embraced and embedded into the lives of most online adults across generations to connect with friends and family, it’s predominately used for updates on current affairs (32%), brand search (29%), general products or services (25%), content from a brand online (19%) and finally, purchasing advice from a friend or network (23%).

It’s safe to say that the overall usage of social networks is high and will continue to increase.

Engaging with brands

Beyond high levels of general usage of social media, consumers are now turning to their favourite social channels to help influence their buying decisions. 62% of people stated that they used social media when deciding whether or not to purchase a product or service.

Not surprisingly, this is higher for the younger age groups with 78% of 16-24 year-olds and 77% of 25-34 year-olds using it as a channel to aid them in their decision-making. However, 42% of all respondents said they engage with brands online in order to access content, with no intention to purchase from them.

The types of brands that consumers feel most engaged with on social media have not changed since our 2014 research with the top four sectors still being: food (39%), technology (29%), fashion (27%) and drink (24%). However, 30% of people said that they would disengage with a brand if they found that others have had a bad experience with them or if they have read any negative news stories about them.

Which reiterates how vital honesty online really is.

Trust online

The access that consumers have to brands and vice-versa means that there is now more focus on the integrity of social media. With various news stories and scandals being highlighted in the media, consumers are now more aware of a brand’s behaviour online.

While consumers are perceptive to the marketing methods of businesses, 39% of participants said they would lose trust or be turned off by a brand if they found out that the content they claimed to be real was not genuine. Which overall provides testimony to the need for brands to be more transparent to win back public trust.

Facebook is now seen to be the most trusted social media platform, with 62% of people saying they have complete trust in the information they see on this channel. This has increased since our 2014 findings which showcased that only 46% had trust in content they had access to on Facebook.

When looking at other social networks, the trend is reversed. 47% have complete trust in content they see on Twitter, 38% Instagram, 60% YouTube and 43% on blogs they read. This proves that overall, consumers were more trusting of brands two years ago (Twitter 55%, Instagram 49%, YouTube 56% and blogs 67%).

Digging deeper into possible causes we find that, worryingly, only 19% of consumers find it easy to tell the difference between marketing communications, advertising, branded content, and non-commercial content on social media. This figure has fallen greatly in comparison to our 2014 findings where over a third (38%) of consumers said it was easy to tell the difference between commercial and non-commercial content.

40% of consumers said they don’t trust brands online because they believe that the content is paid for which in their mind lacks authenticity. However, 32% don’t trust the content specifically as they feel it’s not regulated. Both points come as no surprise when it’s hard to distinguish what’s been paid for and what’s authentic. 

As well as social media channels, the role of online review sites seems to have shifted dramatically. Although many consumers still find them to be a useful source of information, they are no longer as trusted as they once were, with only 25% of consumers saying they believe the comments they read on review sites to be genuine. 

The top three places to read online reviews are Amazon (77%), Trip Advisor (45%) and Retailer websites (33%).

With this in mind, are marketers aware of the implications of ‘bad behaviour’ online and to the fact that this growing concern of trust is the root cause of the eroding relationship between consumers and brands?

Misleading marketing communications and ‘bad behaviour’ on social media is problematic. It’s evident that advertisers aren't doing enough to ensure transparency, which is affecting the trust that consumers have in brands. However, this isn't always intentional – from our previous research, we know that 52% of marketers have little or no understanding of the regulations affecting their communications on social media – but the consequences are still the same.

Businesses face a serious risk of regulatory or legal action, but they also need to understand that the penalties for misleading customers on social media go beyond that. Brands are putting their reputation at risk too. Social media still has a profound impact on how we connect, communicate and collaborate with each other and brands.

What we have discovered from this research is that as the social media and digital space expands, the importance of brand transparency is ever more crucial.

In revisiting this research, we've developed our original knowledge of consumer views of social media and online communications and have gained a richer and more detailed understanding of how much control we, as consumers, have and what honesty means to us.

The key concern is how shaken consumer trust still is, but brands can encourage and win back public trust if they just become more transparent and honest online.

So we are calling on all organisations that market and communicate through social media to understand what the law is, and ensure they follow it. Doing so can reap rewards for businesses in the form of increased consumer trust and confidence. Not doing so can have damaging results.

To help guide brands, we have created five top tips to Keep Social Honest:

  1. Know the law – familiarise yourself with the CAP Code  and the CMA’s guidance on how to comply with the law on online reviews and endorsements.
  2. Make sure those responsible for marketing on social media in your business have the right knowledge and skills – businesses should adopt social media compliance as a professional development priority for marketing staff, and provide the appropriate training and support.
  3. Set a policy and revisit regularly – set out the behaviours and standards on social media that reflect your brand and values. Social media and related technologies are constantly changing. So, policies need to be subject to regular review.
  4. Get everyone on board – make sure all of your employees and any supplier partners you use are aware of your social media policy and commit to complying with it. Make it part of the HR process and supplier contracts.
  5. Make your position public – once you have a policy in place, let your customers know what they can expect from you and welcome their feedback.

 Join in the debate on Twitter #KeepSocialHonest.


Chris Daly Chief Executive CIM

Keep Social Honest research

Back to all