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Despite Its Popularity, Americans Skeptical of Social Media

While most Americans believe the Internet and social media have made it easier to be well-informed consumers and citizens, they are skeptical about the trustworthiness of the information they find there. Credit: Skeptical man image via Shutterstock

While most Americans believe the Internet and social media have made it easier to be well-informed consumers and citizens, they are skeptical about the trustworthiness of the information they find there, a new survey shows.

More than two-thirds of Americans believe major corporations and political candidates are active on social media mostly to advertise, collect information on customers or supporters, and increase their own success, either in profits or votes.

The Allstate Corp. and National Journal surveyed 1,000 adults 18 and older this May to explore how Americans incorporate social media into their consumer and community behaviors.

Nearly two out of three American adults surveyed said they used social media in the last month. Although social media users are somewhat younger and more educated and affluent on average than non-users, they closely align with the overall American public in their opinions about politics and the economy, as well as their perceptions of major institutions, the survey found.

[Does Social Media Make Us Less Ethical?]

Social media users, however, reported significantly higher levels of political and community activity, including volunteering for a community organization, signing campaign or community petitions or attending a campaign rally. Social media users also are more likely to consult with others about buying a product or service, and to change their minds about a product or service because of the opinions of others.

While many Americans see their engagement in online and social media having a positive impact, they remain skeptical about the information they find there. They rate the trustworthiness of online information sources, including company or campaign websites, blogs, forums and social media sites, lower than their rating for traditional news sources. Furthermore, they don't believe social media engagement has given them more power or influence over corporations or the government.

Still, 64 percent of social media users said they'd like to see companies use social media for customer service purposes, and 59 percent said corporate use of social media makes them more likely to see a company as "accessible and responsive."

"That the explosion of available information and interconnectivity through social media is changing profoundly and very quickly how we communicate with each other and with business and government is beyond dispute," said Joan Walker, an Allstate executive vice president. "The greater question is whether these amazing new tools can also help make us more trustworthy in our messaging and in the end re-animate our free press and our free enterprise even as it helps reinvent those endeavors.

"This poll shows that the jury is still out on these questions but suggests strongly that in social media there is much potential for good, creating more accessibility while demanding more authenticity to be successful. This is a recipe that I believe in the long run can help strengthen our social fabric."

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@techmedianetwork.com

Ned Smith

Ned was senior writer at Sweeney Vesty, an international consulting firm, and was Vice President of communications for iQuest Analytics. Before that, he has been a web editor and managed the Internet and intranet sites for Citizens Communications. He began his journalism career as a police reporter with the Roanoke (Va.) Times, and was managing editor of American Way magazine and senior editor of Us. He was a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and held a masters in journalism from the University of Arizona.