A new survey led by Environics Communications made headlines recently for concluding that Canadians don’t trust social media – but according to the Toronto-based communications firm, the truth is more complicated than that.

First, the bad news: the 2016 CanTrust Index, which Environics Communications released on April 26, did indeed discover that on a seven-point scale asking Canadians if a given entity could be trusted to “do what is right for Canada, Canadians and our society,” only 26 per cent gave social media companies such as Facebook, Inc. and Twitter, Inc. a score of five or higher – tying social media with energy, pipeline and resource companies as the lowest-scoring industry measured.

“People know that when they’re on these platforms their information is being gathered and they’re being targeted for advertisements and such,” Vanessa Eaton, Environics Communications’ senior vice president, told ITBusiness.ca. “So I think that plays into trust quite a bit.”

However, there was a difference between Canadians’ trust in social media as a platform and their trust in social media companies themselves, Eaton said.

“When it comes to social media as a tool, depending on who’s using it, trust goes up significantly,” she said.

For example, while the majority of Canadians might not trust Facebook, 74 per cent visit the site at least once a week, and it was the preferred news source for 31 per cent of respondents, with younger Canadians more likely to favour their Facebook feed over traditional news websites such as CTV or CBC.

The survey also found that 80 per cent of Canadians check online reviews – which can often be distributed on social media, Eaton said – before buying a product, and 90 per cent said that online reviews have an impact on their purchasing decisions.

Thirty-four per cent of Canadians also said it was very important for leaders to communicate through social media channels, Eaton said. The same percentage also trusts blogs – a significant increase from 2010, when only 10 per cent of respondents said blogs would influence their purchasing decisions.

The CanTrust Index is an annual study by Environics that measures Canadians’ trust in various product, service, brand, or organization information sources. Unsurprisingly, 75 per cent of Canadians trusted word of mouth over any other source, followed closely by product sampling with 73 per cent. Editorial content, both online and in print, was trusted by 55 per cent of respondents, while consumer opinion or reviews were trusted by 51 per cent.

Meanwhile, none of the industries measured by the survey were trusted by the majority of Canadians: broadcast and streaming companies topped the list with 44 per cent, followed by food retailers (43 per cent), banks (40 per cent), online shopping companies (37 per cent), telecommunications and cable TV companies (35 per cent), and pharmaceutical firms (34 per cent). Trust in traditional and online advertising was also quite low: 31 per cent and 24 per cent, respectively.

According to the survey, organizations can build trust in several ways: by creating jobs and investing in the local community (a method chosen by 69 per cent of respondents), by providing enjoyable products or services (chosen by 68 per cent), by ensuring their leaders are open and accessible (67 per cent), by being Canadian-owned (64 per cent), or by giving to local charities (56 per cent).

The survey was conducted online, with a sample size of around 1000 Canadians, including some 150 new Canadians – that is, people who have been in Canada for 15 years or less – and approximately 560 self-identified primary shoppers, Eaton said.

Among other findings, Environics learned that newcomers trust large corporations – and other sources of information in general, except for the media – than Canadians on average.

“I think that being new to Canada, they might perhaps be a little more optimistic than Canadians who were born here,” Eaton said, noting that Environics did not examine whether this trust decreases as they remain in Canada.

Primary shoppers, meanwhile, were the least trusting respondents, she said, with a full one third – 33 per cent – saying they had no trust in any of the industries surveyed at all.

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  • Rob Fieldmark

    These are quite explainable survey results, because the experiential marketing leaves lasting impressions with consumers and provides an opportunity for message amplification through social channels.