Trust in online contacts
According to a new study1 by Microsoft and Carnegie Mellon University, consumers trust the opinions of social media contacts similarly to contacts in person like friends and family.
The study notes, “As users increasingly access tweets through search, they have less information on which to base credibility judgments as compared to consuming content from direct social network connections. We present survey results regarding users’ perceptions of tweet credibility.”
Who Twitter users trust the most
According to the scientific study, Twitter users most trust items retweeted by someone they trust. This is welcome news to brands that are retweeted, but is a reminder to Twitter users to actually read links before they pass them along as their credibility is tied to what they share, according to the study.
“A retweet from someone you trust” is the biggest factor people base credibility on regarding information shared on Twitter.
How information is evaluated
The research team sought to discover what a Twitter user weighs when they evaluate information seen in their timeline or through a search, ranking which factors helped or hurt the credibility of a tweet.
Below are the most credible factors with the average credibility impact score (a 1-5 rating of how much credibility the factor creates, with 5 being the highest):
- A retweet from someone you trust (4.08)
- Author has demonstrated expertise in the subject (4.04)
- Author is someone you follow (4.00)
- It contains a link to a source (3.93)
- Author is someone you’ve heard of (3.93)
- Author’s identity is verified by Twitter (3.92)
- Author often tweets on that topic (3.74)
- There are many other tweets with similar content (3.71)
- Author has a personal photo as the user image (3.70)
- Author is often mentioned or retweeted (3.69)
- Author’s location is near the topic (3.67)
Below are the factors that are considered the least important when determining the credibility of a tweet:
- Non-standard grammar or punctuation (2.71)
- Author has the default Twitter user image (2.87)
- Author has a cartoon or avatar as user image (3.22)
- Author is following too many users (3.30)
Perception is everything
The researchers took their study one step further and measured whether participants were correct in determining the accuracy of a tweet, and discovered that the subjects were not not accurate in their evaluation. This should be noted, as it truly spells out that perception is reality and misinformation can spread quickly on Twitter as users trust other users over the credibility of information.
“In the absence of the ability to distinguish truthfulness from the content alone, people must use other cues. Given that Twitter users only spend 3 seconds reading any given tweet, users may be more likely to make systematic errors in judgment due to minimal ‘processing’ time.”
How brands gain credibility
Professionals using Twitter must do more than share sloppy tweets about what they ate for lunch or the cute thing their cat did. A profile picture, established history of sharing information on relevant topics, a credible profile picture, and even decent grammar go a long way in establishing credibility, even more so, perhaps than a fleeting endorsement from a famous tweeter.
A retweet is now shown to do more than simply expand your reach, it actually lends credibility to your message when people see you retweeted and they trust the retweeter. Credibility of content now matters less than the credibility of the person tweeting.
1 Microsoft study