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How user trust in social media platforms could affect engagement with ads

Issues of deceptive content, privacy, and safety continue to plague social media. Building user trust is critical for social platforms and their advertisers; it affects how users feel on social media sites and may also impact whether users want to engage with ads there.

Our new Digital Trust Benchmark Report 2021, based on a Q2 2021 survey of 1,730 US social media users, evaluates how these users feel about nine major social media platforms—Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Reddit, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, and YouTube—and reveals the extent to which trust affects usage and attitudes toward advertising.

Strong majorities of our respondents felt that the same three factors that most affect trust—Security (whether a platform protects user privacy and data), Legitimacy (whether a platform shows deceptive content), and Community (whether a platform provides a safe environment)—were either extremely or very impactful on their decision to engage with ads or sponsored content on a social platform.

Notably, users felt these trust factors were more likely to impact whether they engage with ads on social media than factors directly tied to the quality of their ad experience or ad relevance.

For many advertisers, the effectiveness of social media advertising has tended to outweigh crises of user trust surrounding social platforms. Trust concerns haven’t always led advertisers to actively pull back on their social ad spending. And when they have, they’ve done so only temporarily. Past boycotts have often been short-lived before advertisers quietly returned to platforms.

But our study suggests that advertisers do need to consider the state of user trust in their ad spending decisions. They should prioritize data privacy in both their own internal policies and in their advertising decisions. They should also consider voting with their dollars, choosing to support platforms that provide safe content environments over those that harm users. And they should continually monitor their ad creative and media buying choices to ensure balance between delivering ads that are relevant and engaging versus those that are annoying.