David Harkins

David Harkins

Dr. David L. Harkins is a social scientist researching the human experience in systems and culture. He is an experienced executive coach and consultant, passionate educator, and keynote speaker. Through his teachings, inspiration, and guidance, he helps individuals and organizations identify and connect with their potential to make a meaningful difference in their communities.

How social media trust changed marketing

Trust is one of the great cornerstones of life. The most successful relationships, whether personal or business, are built on trust.  Trust is a key factor in the consumption of news and information, too. Over the years, many readers, listeners, and ultimately viewers placed trust in their preferred media channel for the most current and accurate news and information.  Subsequently, each channel began to exploit the trust gained from consumers by accepting advertisements which allowed businesses to leverage the media’s credibility and intimacy through association. The challenge was then, as is now, to determine how to align the marketing and advertising of the business with the media most apt to have the greatest trust among the target customers. Unfortunately, those trusted channels of media and communication are constantly changing.

Much like early newspaper readers became radio listeners, and radio listeners ultimately became television viewers, social media platforms give individuals a different way in which to consume news and information, and this influences how trust is granted. Trust is still the currency, but it is no longer given freely to traditional media (newspapers, magazines, radio, or television) and marketers do not benefit from this association as they once did. Social media has taken the concept of trust in one-on-one personal relationships and created a somewhat commodified version of trust with online peer relationships that are enabled through the distinct differences of each platform. Trust has shifted from the medium itself to an ever-evolving value placed on an online peer relationship with roots established through relational identity (Pan, Lu, Wang, & Chau, 2017). More specifically, if an online peer seems to like and does things similar to the individual granting such trust, a value is created regardless of whether there is any meaningful engagement outside of the online relationship. Social media, then, has established an entirely different trust model—a model built on peer influence and not channel trust. This new model requires entrepreneurs to think differently about advertising and marketing.

Entrepreneurs may realize the benefits of social media tools to both spread word about their business and to engage with customers in a meaningful way. However, it is not enough to understand the broader value of social media use; it is more important to know how to use each platform to engender trust (Cesaroni & Consoli, 2015). Each social media platform, for example, has a specific way of facilitating and engaging its users and each user has his or her pattern and practice of using the different platforms (Kerpen, 2015). No one platform can reach all customers or prospects effectively. Each has its purpose. While Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram, and Pinterest get the lion’s share of attention, social media and engagement are much broader than these few networks. In fact, the number of opportunities for social engagement is vast and growing every day.

Analyst and cultural anthropologist Brian Solis has been tracking social networks and their use in an ongoing study since 2008. The latest version of The Conversation Prism (below – click to see a bigger version) is Solis and Jesse Thomas’ visualization of these networks. Solis shows large buckets of engagement identified as Listening, Learning, and Adapting, and then further subdivides into smaller buckets related to their functional business support: Brand, Community, Service, Development, Marketing, Sales, Communications, and HR (Solis & Thomas, 2017). Solis’ work argues that social media is not necessarily platform-driven, but instead, engagement is driven based on the unique needs, values, and expectations (NVEs) of individual customers.


Arguably it is the NVEs that drive the platform choice; therefore, a niche platform that aligns better with an entrepreneur’s business offering may prove more productive for the entrepreneur than the more conventional networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. This is especially true when considering the growing number of platforms. It can be difficult for an entrepreneur to determine where to place his or her time and energy for social media use. In fact, determining the best fit between the user patterns and the most appropriate platform for the business’s current and potential customers can make or break an online marketing campaign. This is not to say the more traditional networks should not be used at all. Instead, they might be utilized in a more limited manner depending upon the target customer NVEs.

Regardless of the hype, social media is not a replacement for face-to-face customer engagement. A social networking platform, like letters and the telephone, is a tool in the entrepreneurial toolbox. It is imperative to select the tool or tools that will help best achieve the business goals and then stick with the plan. Do not, for example, launch a Twitter account, Facebook Page, or even a blog and then let it go dormant. In today’s active social environment, a stagnant online presence can be more detrimental to the business than no presence at all (Geho & Dangelo, 2012). Keep in mind that the wrong tool or using the right tool in the wrong way can also be detrimental to the business, and no one social media tool is likely to reach all current customers or prospective customers. In the end, marketing online is largely like marketing offline: Go where the customers are, engage in a relevant dialog, and gain their trust. Valued relationships are what build businesses.




Cesaroni, F., & Consoli, D. (2015, December). Are Small Businesses Really Able to Take Advantage of Social Media? (P. Peres, & A. Mesquita, Eds.) The Electronic Journal of Knowledge Management, 13(4), 257-268.

Geho, P., & Dangelo, J. (2012). The Evolution of Social Media as a Marketing Tool for Entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurial Executive, 17, 61-68.

Kerpen, D. (2015). Likeable Social Media (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.

Matney, L. (2017, June 22). YouTube has 1.5 billion logged-in monthly users watching a ton of mobile video. Retrieved July 5, 2017, from techcrunch.com: https://techcrunch.com/2017/06/22/youtube-has-1-5-billion-logged-in-monthly-users-watching-a-ton-of-mobile-video/amp/

Pan, Z., Lu, Y., Wang, B., & Chau, P. Y. (2017). Who Do You Think You Are? Common and Differential Effects of Social Self-Identity on Social Media Usage. Journal of Management Information Systems, 34(1), 71-101. doi:10.1080/07421222.2017.1296747

Solis, B., & Thomas, J. (2017). The Prism Chronicles. Retrieved July 5, 2017, from conversationprism.com: https://conversationprism.com/the-prism-chronicles/

6 thoughts on “How social media trust changed marketing”

  1. Hello David,
    I like your blog and a bunch of what it has to say. I do agree with changing times and how much social media now affects the way clients or customers think or who they trust.
    Not that many years ago people who were glues to the TV were referred to as couch potato. Is there a term for a social media potato now? I know that many spend not just a few minute every day but hours keeping up with friends, events, public figures and also trying to keep their lives interesting to their followers.
    I have found it interesting how Facebook has been sneaking in the advertising in the middle of what you do long enough to catch your interest and sell product.

  2. David,
    I loved that you addressed this issue of trust in an online environment where there seems to be so much doubt about the trustworthiness in social media. I had never heard of the Conversation Prism before. Looking at social media in this way opened my eyes to how many ways there are to engage people. Your statement about using the wrong tool was something I read over and over when searching different industries and their use of social media. All the writers were in agreement that no presence is better than a poorly executed one or trying to use to many platforms at one time.
    Great informative post.

  3. David,
    As always, great start to another interesting topic. Also great visual. I had never heard of NVE’s but it makes sense. Instead of watching and trusting the news or reading the newspaper for the latest and greatest, people are turning to social mediums to research or voice their opinions. Unfortunately, this requires a lot of damage control for the affected parties.

    Agreeably, that social media can really impersonal. As an owner, there needs to be a balance especially if you are in a service-based industry.

    Lastly, a company that is inactive on social media is typically a red flag for me. If I wanted to do business and I do not see any recent reviews or comments about an event, I almost always pick somewhere else to eat, shop, or play. Regardless, if comments are good or bad, I like to see reviews and sometimes I try to prove them right or wrong. For instance, if some says they did not enjoy a movie, that just makes me want to watch it more. There is a saying that says, “There’s no such thing as bad press.” This is not always the truest statement, but for the most part more people will try you product or service based off of the buzz alone.

  4. Thanks Toshia,

    I agree that some press is bad. And social media makes it pretty easy for people to lean toward the negative. There’s a community aspect–a self-policing component if you will–that helps to keep it all in check. If the community fails to do its job, trust becomes increasingly difficult.

  5. Thank you, Cece.
    Using the wrong tool for social media is about like using the wrong tool in the kitchen. Sometimes you can get the job done, but it be messier than it needs to be. 😉

    We forget about trust with media, but it really is key isn’t it?

  6. Hi Mary,

    Thanks so much for your kind comments.

    I’m not sure there’s a term for those glued to their mobile phones or social media, but “social media potato” might work just fine. You might have coined a new term! 🙂

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