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Consumers Still Pretty Suspicious About Social Media Marketing, Forrester Survey Finds

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Forrester has put out a new digital marketing report, off the back of a survey of more than 58,000 online consumers, looking at how brands can better sell themselves and create content that flies in the digital age. One interesting takeaway is a chart (see below) which shows how U.S. and European consumers react to different types of advertising/marketing content.

While the finding that trust in ‘traditional’ push marketing techniques (such as banner ads) is at rock bottom in the online world isn’t a surprise, the chart doesn’t make hugely encouraging reading for proponents of social marketing which also languishes near the bottom of the trust index, just above the mobile apps channel. Text message communications were the least trusted, while online banner ads barely rated above spammy SMS in the trust stakes.

The relatively low trust in social marketing tallies with a recent Gartner report that found U.S. marketers ranked spending on the corporate website as more likely to result in “marketing success” than spending on social media sites such as Facebook.

Despite SMS, banner ads, mobile apps and social marketing methods being similarly (and lowly) ranked in the consumer trust stakes, the chart in Forrester’s report actually shows large variation in the effectiveness of different marketing methods — with the most positively ranked promotions (namely: recommendations from friends and family) up to around 8x more trusted than the least trusted methods.

One amusing result highlighted by the chart is that Europeans are shown living up to their cynical reputation, with Forrester finding for every type of advertising content it asked about in the survey Europeans consistently trusted it less than their U.S. counterparts (including, it has to be said, their own friends and family).

Also interesting to note that “professionally written online reviews” still carry a huge cachet — at least with U.S. consumers. European consumers are far less trusting of the publishing industry, however (55% vs 33% split on that category).

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The report notes that traditional ‘one-way’ marketing techniques like banner ads are clearly ineffective in a landscape of “perpetually connected consumers”. Web users are tuning out this old school type of marketing or failing to notice it in the first place or forgetting they ever saw it — which may also partially explain why personal recommendations from people they know well are so much more trusted. With so many sources of information to filter, better the devil you know and all that.

“Brand-led advertising online and offline has lost its allure,” notes report author Tracy Stokes. “Today’s consumers decide where, when, and how they want to engage with brands. With multiple interconnected devices at their fingertips at any one time, these perpetually connected consumers can opt in or out of content as they choose… Marketers face a higher bar to engage consumers, who have more media options than ever before.”

The survey also indicates there is still considerable trust in natural search engine results, and also in consumer written reviews, such as Amazon’s user reviews — which were both ranked around 3x more trusted than social marketing.

The North American portion of the survey polled 58,068 US and 5,635 Canadian online adults ages 18 to 88 in Q2 2012, while the European poll was conducted in Q3 2012, polling 20,778 European individuals in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Sweden, and the UK. The European survey was based on an online population of ages 12+ (16+ in Poland) who were members of the Ipsos-MORI online panel.