Thursday, February 28, 2008

The edifice of the trusted expert takes another hit

Hard on the heels of all that Blue Peter cat naming chaos, dodgy phone votes and competitions, comes news that Maxim (in the US) has published a review of a CD its reviewer hadn't actually listened to (via the BBC... careful now, people in glasshouses etc etc).

Media brands have long known that trust is among our most precious possessions. At least we say we do - and then keep doing things like the above. Yet there are still those who struggle to understand how inevitable the decline of mass media becomes in these circumstances.

In specialist, consumer media (my world - and that of Maxim) we like to believe that our experts have something more to offer than our communities. Often that comes down to access. That's what makes the Maxim thing so wrong - it faked the access. They pretended they had got to hear the new Black Crowes album before you did. And they hadn't. And as a result the opinion was fake. It was a lie. Even the position of authority Maxim could claim from getting this access was bogus - because the access was never there.

THIS UPDATE: (made me laugh outloud!). "Rapper Nas, whose hits include Hip Hop Is Dead and If I Ruled The World, told the New York Post that he was surprised that Maxim had reviewed his album - because he hadn't finished recording it yet. The magazine called his album "radio friendly" and gave it a rating of 2.5 stars out of five."

Guess what all this does to trust...

No wonder people are making use of the power of the network to create their own networks of trust and to set their own definitions of quality (step forward tripadvisor et al). Relevance over quality folks. Live (or die) by it.

There is still a (potentially lucrative) role for trusted reviewers to give you a tip in the right direction, to start a marketing ball rolling in a believable direction. Trust them and you start to believe the reviewer even without direct experience of the product yourself (it's a core part of Dave Balter's thinking, an idea which permeates his book Grapevine, and the activities of his word-of-mouth marketing company BzzAgent).

I'll be keen to hear what Dave thinks about the regularity with which 'expert' opinion is being revealed as untrustworthy when we meet for lunch in London next month, and the impact of trust being created by networks rather than from the centre.


  1. Hi David

    Trust is a valuable and precious commodity and mass media organisations abuse it at their peril. Not only do they become 'untrustworthy' but it also costs them money.

    But why should we assume that communities are intrinsically trustworthy? People lie to impress their friends in the same way that publications lie to impress their readers. In fact individuals might be said to have less to lose and thus could be said to be by their very nature less trustworthy.


  2. Your less-to-lose point is very important - and referred to in an earlier post about ratings and reputations. Yes. of course a useful network of trust must have a system which places real value on reputation (cite ebay)
    Can I point you at


The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?