We recently surveyed 1,730 US social media users on the factors that most affect their trust in social platforms and how those factors impact their decision to engage with ads or sponsored content there. 

Our new Digital Trust Benchmark Report 2021 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. Below are some findings. 

Ad engagement

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.

More than half (52%) of respondents said that whether a platform protects their privacy and data is extremely impactful on their decision to interact with the ads or sponsored content they see there. - Insider Intelligence
More than half (52%) of respondents said that whether a platform protects their privacy and data is extremely impactful on their decision to interact with the ads or sponsored content they see there. Insider Intelligence

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.

Ad relevance

Users were most likely to feel that ads are relevant on Instagram, Pinterest, and LinkedIn. About a third of users on each platform agreed or strongly agreed that ads are relevant. Most other platforms were not far behind, with about three in 10 users agreeing or strongly agreeing that ads are relevant.

These agreement rates are fairly strong, particularly when compared with consumer perceptions of ad relevance in other media channels. According to a March 2021 GWI and WARC survey of US internet users, 20.5% felt that the ads they typically see on social media are personalized, versus just 14.1% who said the same of ads on websites and 8.9% who said the same of TV ads.

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Ad experience

One takeaway from our survey was that respondents were considerably less likely to perceive ads on Instagram as annoying versus those on Facebook.

Younger users were more likely than older ones to be annoyed by ads on some platforms. - Insider Intelligence
Younger users were more likely than older ones to be annoyed by ads on some platforms. Insider Intelligence

Just 21% of Instagram users agreed or strongly agreed that ads are annoying on Instagram, versus 33% of users who said Facebook. Not all Facebook users also use Instagram, but this comparison is a strong indication that users are less likely to be annoyed by ads on Instagram. Much of this percentage-point gap is due to different perceptions among millennials, Gen Xers, and baby boomers.