Americans typically trust information sources in closest proximity—such as direct experience and word of mouth—above more remote sources, including mainstream media, social networks and certain digital channels like Web forums and blogs, according to the Trusted Media Index, part of continuing research into consumer behavior conducted by GolinHarris. 

In addition, the survey found that most Americans (53 percent) now trust dedicated online channels as much as traditional/mainstream media channels such as newspapers, radio, and television, including their online counterparts.

 “The Trusted Media Index helps our clients better understand the unique media preferences of their specific,” says GolinHarris president and CEO Fred Cook. “Based on those insights we are able to aggregate the appropriate media mix that most effectively alter their perceptions and impact their behavior.” 

The survey discovered several fundamental trends:
• Newspapers, magazines and television (including both their online and offline vehicles) are slipping in trust as individuals become more familiar with newer, collaborative information sharing resources more focused on their specific interests, with radio, including traditional formats and digital/online radio, as the exception, with consumers maintaining their overall level of trust in the channel.
• Dedicated online media channels are now trusted by a majority of the general population than “mainstream” media including print, radio, television and magazines.  Trial is over for digital news sources and Americans now regard it as an irreplaceable, trusted information source.
• Overall, people are most likely to trust hands-on, direct experience above all other mediated and unmediated information sources.
• Word-of-mouth rises above mainstream and digital media – people are more likely to believe a story if it is confirmed by a trusted, expert peer than if they read or hear about it from the media. 
• Direct experience and word-of-mouth are the most likely to hold their highly trusted status in the future, but will be challenged by dedicated online news and information sources as the most trusted media source.
• Perhaps due to their relative immaturity, social media channels such as blogs, forums and networks rank lower than other established forms of media on the trust index. Yet, social media channels show the greatest gain of trust when consumers discuss sources of information they are likely to trust in the future.

“Proactives” (public opinion leaders who actively participate in their communities, advocate issues and share information) trust digital and social media such as direct experience, dedicated online media and word of mouth much more than the general population and much more than they trust traditional media channels such as radio, newspapers, magazines and TV. In addition, these key influencers are heavy media consumers across the spectrum of information sources, combining what they’re absorbing from television, print, radio and their own personal experience with what others report through social media including online networks, blogs, message boards.

Those consumers who trust social media the most are less likely to favor traditional media such as TV, magazines and newspapers, substituting emerging media with traditional media.  Meanwhile, those who trust traditional media the most are less likely to trust social media. Therefore, to speak to the masses and earn their trust, companies need plans to reach both traditional and social media.

Finally, women are slightly more likely than men to trust word of mouth, but although they are just as likely as men to use dedicated online media but they are significantly less likely to trust it.  TV is still a highly trusted medium for women, but not so for men.