Reigniting Trust

"Not as Simple as We Think"

Why do people trust media? Sylvia Chan-Olmsted says the factors go far beyond credibility

Ask many experts about how and why people trust media and words like “credibility” and “sourcing” and “political affiliation” come up often. Yet some say there are many additional factors—and they may be more important.

Sylvia Chan-Olmsted

Sylvia Chan-Olmsted, director of media consumer research and a professor in the Department of Telecommunications at the University of Florida, says trust factors in today’s media markets extend far beyond traditional metrics.

“Today’s trust in media is not like before,” she said. “Media now is not a source thing. Media is my life. Media is integrated into people’s decision making. I had a large-scale, longitudinal study where I asked what media is and they said, ‘Media is my connection to the world.’ News is not as simple as we think.”

Chan-Olmsted has spent two decades conducting consumer research in both academia and industry settings, where they need to understand how markets perceive and react to product offerings. She has conducted studies for well-known companies such as Twitter and Google. The work has led her to ask in-depth questions about the factors that truly impact trust.

| Click here to read a Q&A with Sylvia Chan-Olmsted. |

Chan-Olmsted now works with the Consortium on Trust in Media and Technology to better understand these factors and how they drive consumers to embrace one media source and scorn another.

“You have to look at news and all media differently, not based on traditional trust metrics,” she said. “I’m trying to come up with a different kind of trust scale in media that takes into consideration this kind of life relevancy.”

The Attention Economy

Chan-Olmsted said the factors that impact trust may extend well beyond the quality of content and into the quality of the overall experience.

“We’re in an attention economy,” she said. “Think about your daily life. You’re busy. Your attention is at a premium. You only pay attention to things that are relevant and important to you.”

Factors like the quality of presentation, the ease of use and ability to have a smooth experience may be as important as more traditional trust metrics like credibility and accuracy.

“What we found initially is that media brand trust is about having a consistent experience through the ecosystem,” she said. “So, it’s not just the brand, it’s the whole experience. And you know why? Because Amazon changed us. A lot of digital experiences changed us. We have certain expectations. Trust is not just about content.”

Complicating matters further, Chan-Olmsted also said that trust is not always required for consumers to use a media source.

 “Lots of people don’t trust something, but they’ve used it a lot,” she said. “So, we cannot talk about credibility and integrity only. We have to talk about life relevance and the importance of relationships. ‘I like Twitter so much’ or ‘I hate Twitter’ will influence how I trust the content there.”

“Trust is Not Credibility”

Chan-Olmsted is involved in several projects, including a collaboration with My Thai, a professor of computer and information sciences, on machine learning systems that identify fake imagery.

In another project, she is working to create a “media brand trust scale” that can be applied universally across different countries and cultures. Such a scale might expand the scope of factors that impact trust to accommodate how media has changed, taking into account that today’s media publishes constantly, is available immediately and is fully integrated into consumers’ lives.

“Trust is not credibility,” she said. “They’re two different things. They’re highly related, but they’re not identical. So, what I’m proposing is that [how consumers relate to media] is becoming more important. Media is trying to be tech, and tech is trying to be media. it’s global and it’s pitched across platforms. So, if the world is so multi-dimensional, why are we looking at things as one-dimensional?”