Winner's Edge

Focused on strategic communications

Breaking through the noise of social media

Proven sources like academics and experts gain influence as people become more skeptical of peer recommendations.

Way back in the 20th century, “buzz” was the je ne sais quoi of the marketing world. Every company wanted it, but few presumed to know how to get it. Back then, corporations generally lobbed their products into the marketplace, bombarded consumers with repetitive messages and sat back and prayed that buzz would magically appear.

That, of course, changed as companies learned how to harness the Internet. And, as social media like MySpace and Facebook emerged, marketing became less of a monologue and more of a multiparty conversation. It suddenly wasn’t enough for companies and their spokespersons to speak down to consumers from the mountaintop. The new challenge was how to get consumers to say good things about a product to one another.

The rise of social media has been part and parcel of the devolution of authoritative information and the flowering of a million cacophonous voices. It not only changed the way companies looked at consumers but how consumers looked at each other. By 2005, surveys showed that when it came to the marketplace, Americans were beginning to trust their peers more than well-known authorities and experts. The following year, according to the Trust Barometer Survey conducted by Edelman, an international public relations firm, saw the emergence of “a person like me” as a credible spokesperson for companies and products.

By 2010, nearly four in five corporations were planning to move money they once spent on television advertising to some sort of social media campaign. Two weeks ago, Pepsi chose to forgo a high-profile TV spot at halftime of the Super Bowl for a social-media-driven charity campaign that will award the nonprofit organizations that muster the most votes through virtual social networks. Could there be any better proof that social media is the future of marketing?

But hold on, now comes Edelman’s 2010 Trust Barometer. The latest findings fly in the face of that formerly new conventional wisdom.

According to the survey, since 2008 the number of people who view their friends and peers as credible sources of consumer and business information dropped by almost half, from 45% to 25%. Similarly, in the past year, the number of people who view peers as credible spokespersons also slipped. Even more strikingly, however, after a precipitous decline earlier in the decade, informed consumers have regained trust in traditional authorities and experts.

What’s going on? Are Facebook friends turning on each other? Did we lose faith in ourselves? Is social media just a fluke?

None of the above, says Gail Becker, Edelman’s Western regional president. After sifting through the data, she concludes that consumers are merely rebelling against all the noise and reflecting the effects of uncertain times.

A few years ago, when peer-to-peer trust was at a peak, social media was still relatively new and its circles were manageable. But since then, the number of friend networks has exploded and every kind of business, for-profit and not, has sought to harness — we might say, exploit — them for their gain. That, according to Becker, has made people more skeptical of peer recommendations.

“Social media is more professionalized now and less organic,” says Becker. “It’s harder to know who to trust.”

And in troubled times, such uncertainty is magnified. All of this explains the rise in the number of people willing to pay attention to sources like proven academics and experts. After indulging the thoughts and opinions of anyone who was “just like me,” it seems that people are now looking for a firmer guarantee of clarity, objectivity and accuracy.

Although these findings are mostly about business and financial matters, they surely also have broader significance. They suggest that the flattening of authority may not go on forever, and that there are limits to Americans’ belief in Everyman.

I’d like to think that this bodes well for one of the old, authoritative sources of information, the traditional media. Unfortunately, so far the survey also shows that the credibility of television and radio news and newspapers continued to take a beating over the past two years.

Cacophony and crisis prove the need for objectivity and expertise. What a relief. Call it old-fashioned, hierarchical or elitist, but in an era in which issues are only becoming more complicated, it’s about time.

(reprinted from Los Angeles Times. OpEd by Gregory Rodriguez)


February 17, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Public Opinion: Offshore Drilling

While public opinion on offshore drilling may still be somewhat divided, recent survey research shows increasing support for its expansion, both in California and in Florida, which have been known for their opposition to offshore drilling.

A series of surveys conducted in Florida during the summer of 2008 found support for offshore oil drilling to be around 60 percent. More recently, surveys in California have also shown support for offshore drilling to constitute a slight majority of public opinion. For example, a July 2009 Public Policy Institute of California survey found 51% of Californians in support of expanding offshore drilling, the same as in their July 2008 survey.

In addition, one of the research firms I frequently partner with, Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin &Associates (FMMA), recently conducted statewide research in California regarding a new offshore drilling project proposal. Fifty-three percent of respondents indicated that they would favor the project, with just 36 percent opposing it and 11 percent undecided.

Interestingly, while there has been speculation that support for drilling is being driven largely by high levels of concern about dependence on foreign oil imports and high energy prices, the results of the FMM&A survey showed that support was strong across the board, regardless of whether respondents have a high or low degree of concern about foreign oil dependence.

Other attitudes and factors may be at play in both California and Florida – two states where the current economic downturn has played havoc with balancing state budgets – such as the desire to capture a portion of offshore drilling revenues for state coffers. For example, in the California case, mention in the survey of billions of dollars in new state government revenues from offshore drilling drives the numbers for support for the California offshore drilling proposal to nearly two-thirds. Further, there is simply the passage of time. It has been 40 years since the Santa Barbara oil spill galvanized offshore drilling opposition nationwide. Perhaps as memories and concerns fade, economics are taking over.

February 13, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trust in California State Government Reaches Record Lows

A new survey by the Public Policy Institute of California finds that Californians’ trust in their state government has reached a record low and their desire for change is high.

Californians are cautious about the types of reforms they are willing to support. Huge majorities are willing to support a shift to an open primary system (70%) but only 23% favor reducing the legislature to part-time status.

The research by the PPIC shows deep distrust in state government on the part of the voters. Nearly three-fourths (73%) say it is pretty much run by a few big interests looking out for themselves, a new high in the 11-year history of the PPIC Statewide Survey. Just 20 percent say that state government is run for the benefit of all of the people.

Residents retain more confidence in their own abilities to make policy decisions. A small majority (56%) say that decisions made through the initiative process are probably better than those made through the legislative process and only 28% say they are probably worse. Californians continue to feel that Proposition 13 and term limits—two constitutional changes made by initiative—have mainly been good for the state.

Not surprisingly, Californians are in agreement that the budget situation is a problem and two-thirds see it as a big problem–78 percent seeing it as a big problem and 18 percent calling it somewhat of a problem. The 78 percent figure matches a record high first reached in September 2008. A majority (60%) are very concerned about the effect of spending cuts on local government services—far more than when PPIC asked a similar but less detailed question five years ago (35% August 2004).

80% see the budget process as in need of major changes which marks a steady increase since March of 2008. This view is held across political parties, demographic groups, and regions. Californians were asked to consider three fiscal reform ideas under discussion:

• Spending cap: Most (65%) say it would be a good idea to strictly limit increases in state spending each year (28% bad idea).
• Two-thirds vote to pass a budget: A majority (53%) say it would be a good idea to lower the threshold needed for budget passage to 55 percent of the legislature (38% bad idea).
• Two-thirds vote for local special taxes: Half (50%) say it would be a good idea to lower this requirement to 55 percent of voters (42% bad idea).

There have been increased calls for review and perhaps revision of the constitution, but the survey does not show support for this among the voters. Only 33 percent of Californians say major changes to the constitution are needed, while 36 percent say minor changes are needed and 24 percent say the constitution is fine as it is.

Two landmark initiatives are seen mostly as a good thing for California. Proposition 13 (55% mostly a good thing, 30% mostly a bad thing, 12% don’t know), which limits property taxes on both residential and commercial buildings, and term limits (59% good thing, 15% a bad thing, 23% no difference), which limits state legislators’ terms to six years in the assembly and eight in the senate.

However, the survey found that residents also support changes to these measures. A majority (58%) say it would be a good idea to tax commercial properties according to current market value, known as a “split roll.” A majority (65%) also say it would be a good idea to modify term limits by reducing the total number of years lawmakers could serve—from 14 to 12—but allowing years of service to be in either house or a combination of both.

Even though residents are pleased with direct democracy, overwhelming majorities favor two possible reforms to the initiative process:

• Increasing public disclosure of funding sources for signature gathering and campaigns (81% favor, 14% oppose)
• Having a period of time in which the initiative sponsor and the legislature could meet to see if a compromise is possible before putting the measure on the ballot (80% favor, 15% oppose).

Support has grown since March for a change in the state’s primary system that would allow voters to cast ballots for any candidate, with the top two vote-getters advancing to the general election regardless of party with 70% favoring support regardless of party, region, and demographic group. But residents’ negative views of their full-time legislature do not mean they see a shift to a part-time legislature as a solution: 44 percent say it would be a bad thing, 23 percent a good thing, and 27 percent say it would make no difference.

Californians’ perception of the economy has improved since July, perhaps in response to recent positive economic indicators. But residents’ views are far from positive: 67 percent say the state can expect bad times financially in the next 12 months.

The negative views about the direction of the state are reflected in views about state leaders. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s approval rating (30%) is near his record low in July (28%), and his disapproval rating has hit a new high of 61 percent. The legislature’s rating (21%) inched up from its low (17% July). Californians’ approval of their own legislators (34%) remains near its lowest level (32% March 2009).*

*Information in this post based on a recent article in California Progress Report

September 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Public Opinion: Raising Local Taxes May be More Acceptable to Californians Than Higher State Taxes

California’s perennial struggle to balance its state budgets has national importance. Among the issues with which the nation’s most populous and socially diverse state is grappling are:

How to define and pay for quality public education.
How to sustain a safety net for the economically desperate
in a period of shrinking state and local revenues.
How to overcome structural obstacles to efficient budget making.

The resolution of these and other issues could have significant political, economic and social impacts across the country in the years ahead.

California’s fiscal process, as well as its social priorities, will have a lot to do with this and future years’ mix of service cutbacks and new taxes and fees. Since the 1930’s, California has been Constitutionally required to adopt the state budget by a two-thirds Legislative majority. Because of a 1978 initiative statute, the Legislature must also agree on any new taxes by the same supermajority. Thus, in recent years disproportionate influence over these decisions rests with a minority of tax and spending-averse conservative Republicans, in spite of large Democratic majorities in both houses of the Legislature and a 44 to 31 percent Democratic advantage in the state’s electorate.

But do California voters want to change the rules to adopt state budgets and to make it easier to pass new revenue measures? Recent public opinion research says, “No”, as shown in the first three sets of bars in the graph below. This explains, in part, why California is having such a difficult time balancing its 2009-10 budget. However, the fourth set of bars, on the far right, suggests that under certain circumstances Californians might support raising revenues.

It would seem that California voters are much more likely to end the two-thirds supermajority for new taxes if the lesser vote requirement were to apply to issue-specific local taxation proposals. Thus, California may eventually see financial responsibility for education, public safety and social welfare — which in the past three decades has been increasingly concentrated at the state level – devolve to local governments, where voters seem to feel more immediately connected and believe there would be greater accountability. If this devolution occurs in California, it could be echoed in other states, much to the inconvenience of national policy makers and interest groups, which look to state government as the principal conduit for Federal aid and support.

June 28, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment