Research: Attributes driving trust do not necessarily drive media usage

By Agnes Stenbom

Schibsted/Tinius Trust

Stockholm, Sweden


At Schibsted, we believe trust will be a key differentiator for editorial media in our increasingly digital and fragmented information environment.

That is why we, a Nordic media group operating national and local news destinations in Sweden and Norway, recently delved into the nuances of media trust to better understand how we might safeguard and evolve it going forward.

I want to share some of the key findings from our work and discuss what they might mean for editorial media.

Exploring user attitudes to understand trust

During the winter of 2023-2024, we conducted a large-scale survey involving 3,000 participants from Sweden and Norway, aged between 16 and 74. Our survey was designed in collaboration with NoA Consulting. It utilised nationwide panels to ensure a sample that accurately reflected our populations.

The study identified several factors that impact reader trust.
The study identified several factors that impact reader trust.

The survey sought to establish a clear definition of trust based on users’ attitudes. This is distinctively different from industry peers gathering to discuss elements of trust or researchers developing academic ideas, for example. Such work is crucial and has greatly informed our study, which is focused on uncovering user attitudes and links to trust.

To prevent rationalised answers influenced by social-desirability bias, we avoided direct questions about what users think or feel about trusting a media brand. Instead, we used statistical analysis to identify “true” drivers by finding links between different attitudes expressed.

This was done by asking our respondents to rate the extent to which they trusted information from a specific media source. Later, we polled them on various statements about media attributes (e.g., “Here, information is fact-based and true.”).

Our study approach allowed us to move beyond ideals about media trustworthiness and employed statistical analysis to identify genuine drivers of trust.

Identifying key drivers

Our work identified four key drivers of users’ trust in editorial media:

  1. Credibility of process: The integrity and reliability of the processes and personnel behind the content creation.
  2. Credibility of content: The trustworthiness of the content itself.
  3. Personal relevance: How relevant and useful the content is to an individual user.
  4. Selectivity: The selection of facts, events, and topics that are reported.

These drivers are both different and interrelated, and they paint a picture where both the humans and technology behind editorial processes are central to driving trust.

Trust’s impact on media consumption

Our research also investigated how trust affects media usage and the willingness to pay for content.

In our industry, we have a tendency to talk about trust as the holy grail, but does it really matter in terms of driving our desired user behaviours (use and payment)?

The study found trust and reader willingness to pay are closely related.
The study found trust and reader willingness to pay are closely related.

In the study, it became evident that attributes driving trust do not necessarily drive media usage. For instance, attributes contributing to a great user experience — like the product being user-friendly — seem to significantly affect the extent to which a specific media is consumed, but they are less crucial for building trust.

We can, however, see a common denominator in “personal relevance.”

However, the attributes that foster trust also seem to drive a willingness to pay for content, suggesting a link between trust and potential revenue.

Personal relevance: It’s complicated

Personal relevance stood out as a key driver across trust, media usage, and willingness to pay. Interestingly, content aligning with an individual’s worldview was particularly impactful. This insight is crucial for media companies considering the balance between personalised content and the presentation of diverse viewpoints.

Whether news content is relevant to a reader affects their trust in it.
Whether news content is relevant to a reader affects their trust in it.

I believe we need to deeply consider the media’s role and responsibility in fostering a shared narrative of our time. How can we serve the public as a democratic function by making sure that, in an age of AI-driven hyper-personalisation, citizens are exposed to a multitude of perspectives and ideas that help us understand the world?

Looking ahead together

The insights from this study are not only vital for Schibsted but can have implications for the broader media industry. We are sharing these findings with the hope of our industry working toward collective improvement in how trust is built and maintained in the media, because we know from experience that the actions of one media company often has consequences for other brands too.

As Schibsted prepares to transition to an independent entity under the name Schibsted Media, we are committed to further exploring these trust drivers and integrating them into our strategic planning.

As I have presented and discussed our findings with newsrooms in and beyond Schibsted, new ideas and questions arise with every new group. I would love to hear what kind of thoughts you have.

About Agnes Stenbom

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