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Published March 24th 2014

Why Do Human Recommendations Matter For Shared Content?

The amount of content and information published today is overwhelming. It is simply not possible to read everything that is published. We need filters and one way of filtering content is to view how often it is shared or recommended by other people. Identifying the most shared content in a particular topic area effectively acts like a crowd based filtering system where you trust people to share good content.

Why should we trust shared content?

We know that people will share content if it is helpful to others, if they like it and sometimes to make themselves look good but fundamentally they will not want to share content that is of poor quality or which will reflect badly on them. Thus we will generally trust other people, like ourselves, to share good content.

Surveys show that people trust people

Filtering based on the most shared content works because people trust other people. Trust is a key feature in marketing whether content marketing or more traditional advertising. It is why many of the large advertising and marketing agencies conduct regular surveys focused on trust. All the evidence from these surveys shows that people trust people more than they trust businesses or government.

In 2013 Neilson released survey data on consumer trust in various sources of information. This survey compared the findings in 2013 with a similar survey in 2007. The top three most trusted sources of information (% completely or somewhat trusting) were as follows:

It is no surprise that ‘recommendations from people I know’ scores the highest. For many of us when looking for say a builder, or a new gadget we will turn first to friends that we think may be able to help us. We will also place a high degree of trust in their recommendations.

What was surprising was the high level of trust in consumer opinions online from people they didn’t know. In essence people appear to place more trust in the opinions of strangers online than in many other sources of information. People also have more trust in regular people like themselves than CEOs of companies or government representatives. The latest Trust Barometer from Edelman shows that there has been a sharp rise in people trusting people like themselves or regular employees.

Trust and social signals

The surveys from Edelman and Neilson appear to show increasing trust in online recommendations and recommendations from people like myself or regular people. This would appear to strongly support the use of social signals such as likes, shares or plus ones in helping people to filter information online. It also supports Google’s extended use of social signals such as using what a person’s friends share or recommend to influence their search results.

The Edelman survey shows that people most trusted are acknowledged experts which also strongly supports the role influencers may play in influencing people. Content shared by a person who is an acknowledged expert is more likely to be trusted by people according the survey.

Thus we can expect to see the number of social shares and influencer recommendations play an increasingly important role in influencing what content is trusted. The most shared content in a particular topic area is likely to carry higher levels of trust.

You can view the most shared content in any topic area with a BuzzSumo search and the influencers that shared the content.

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