Before we get into this blog’s topic about online media, especially social media, credibility and trust using Adrian Wojnarowski as an example, let me introduce him here for a little bit, just in case you are not very familiar with him yet.
If you follow NBA on a regular basis, you probably have heard his name millions of times. Adrian Wojnarowski is an American sports columnist who writes articles for Yahoo Sports.
His column on Yahoo Sports: http://sports.yahoo.com/author/adrian-wojnarowski/
He surely is very active on Twitter as well: https://twitter.com/WojYahooNBA
Adrian is widely considered as the best NBA “scooper” in the business, he does not cover the news, he calls out NBA draft picks ahead of time on his Twitter account, he calls out NBA trades long before they become official, he even calls out potential management changes before they go public, all in all, Adrian has helped break many major NBA stories since he joined Yahoo in the year of 2007.
And, people trust him!
If Adrian tweets that a star player of the team you support is taking his talent to the South Beach (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Decision_(TV_special)), you will become sad because you know this is not something from the rumour mill, you know this is happening, just a matter of time. After a few days, you will then become really sad and start burning that player’s jerseys while sending out mean tweets mentioning @ThatPlayer.
So, why people trust him?
First and foremost. all the things he “predicted” become true.
In the real world, trust does not simply come into existence, trust grows over time. The same applies to the social media context as well. Adrian is just a strangers to all of us among a mass of people, and then there is first step that he gives away a piece of news which does not only serve the purpose of attracting viewers, but also is genuine and true. People start to enjoy the news Adrian shares because they are interested in NBA trade rumours. After a day or two, when that particular piece of news becomes an official statement published on an official website, people will then look back and think “oh s**t, this man is not kidding around, he is serious”, and this is when trust starts to build. These people then start to share with their friends who are also interested in NBA rumours: “follow Adrian Wojanrowski @WojYahooNBA, he’s good”, and this is when reputation starts to build.
Adrian uses anonymous sauces in his articles and tweets, this surely violates one of the rules to build credibility and trust for online media, but when he has never messed up once, I think people really do not care about this anonymous, instead, people will tend to assume that this “anonymous” person is very “inside”. Beside, Adrian works for Yahoo, a leading news website that does not rely on false rumours to attract page views. This also gives Adrian some extra credibility. Adrian’s articles and tweets are often attributed by other major news outlets as sources in their coverings.
While specialist Christopher Penn recently worried about the use of social media as a new channel as too many are “poisoning the wells” (http://www.christopherspenn.com/2013/08/poisoning-the-wells/) of social media. He wrote: “Look at how many people are publishing articles, blog posts, editorial, and other commentary about how social media is a giant scam, a scheme, a shell game, and little more than a high school popularity contest”. It seems that social media makes it harder for someone to trust another. For example, a Twitter account does not necessarily need to account for his/her credibility, it is free to open another one, but newspapers, cable networks, or websites do rely on the reputation of being trustworthy to survive. While people are spending an increasing amount of time on social media networks, it seems that trust is hugely challenged. However, Adrian proves that trust is not dismissed, it must be earned. As Warren Buffett once said: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” While it is “think before you speak”, it should now be “think before you tweet”. Only then we can expect to build trust based on engaging social media content over a long period of time.