Friends, peers are substantially less trusted than they were two years ago.

People don’t really care that much about your opinion anymore. But there is hope.

The 10th annual edition of the Edelman Trust Barometer 2010 — a survey of opinions on business credibility conducted across 22 countries — has found that trust in businesses rose an incredible 18 points to 54%. But before we all throw a big party we need to pause a moment. What’s the reason for this increase? The study attributes that steep rise in trust to the mea culpas and palliative reactions companies have been forced to respond with to the poor economy. In other words there’s no future business plan here. This rise is fragile and while it worked this year I don’t feel you should count on what is basically sympathy to carry feelings of public trust in business into next year.

So what’s a business to do? Let’s take a look at another part of the study.

People don’t trust any one, single source of information anymore.

Walter Cronkite was once, famously, the most trusted man in America. But prior to 1981, when Cronkite stepped down from the CBS Evening News, options for information were limited. I think people today are smarter and more globally conscious than they ever have been before.

People have come to realize that news agencies — and companies alike — have agendas. Radio, TV and newspapers have become less trusted sources of information. This seachange has been rapid and unexpected for many. As with any major event there is no single cause. This lack of trust is partially due to practical economic reasons, such as a newspaper purging seasoned, more expensive staff and allowing younger writers to publish less quality content. It may also be a result of the increase in opinion journalism instead of Cronkite’s unbiased version. Whatever the cause, over the past several years the public has learned to consume news through multiple channels. And that goes for information consumers use to learn about products and services too.

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Friends and peers are also substantially less trusted.

In the last two years the value your friends or peers place on what you say has plummeted by 20 percent. Now only 25% trust what you say. That’s exactly in-line with the staggeringly low trust in traditional media. This decrease in trust in peers is important because it has been the driving factor behind social media, online comments, reviews and recommendations. What should business learn from this? A well-run and engaging social media program that sparks interest is extremely important, and it will become increasingly more important in the near future. In fact, just participating in social media without a well thought-out strategy may even have a diminishing effect. But putting all of your marketing budget into social media isn’t a bright idea either. Businesses need to use multiple channels if they want to influence purchasing decisions.

Traditional media is down, but business magazines are up.

Edelman smartly did not lump all media together as traditional media. According to their in-depth studies over the past 10 years, business magazines have consistently been ranked high. In fact, this year it saw a slight rise in the perception and consumption of information coming from business magazines. Consumers value expert opinion and reviews above all others.

It comes down to this, and it really should be no surprise to anyone: you can’t rely on any one single medium to tell your story. And unless your friend is an expert, his or her opinion matters just about as much (or as little) as any other source. In order to influence someone you need reach them at least 3-5 times with the same message. That means marketing plans for the future need to incorporate radio, TV, outdoor, print, social media and, if possible, expert reviews and endorsements.