Who do Americans turn to as messengers of real, unbiased, trustworthy information around today’s most pressing social issues—particularly in a time when concerns around misinformation and fake news are at an all-time high?
In 2021, the Ad Council Research Institute (ACRI) launched a multi-year study to determine just that: When it comes to the most important (and often divisive) issues today, where do Americans turn for information and to help guide decision-making?
This year’s study again sought to determine today’s most trusted messengers (in general and for six key issues). And it went deeper: How do those messengers differ as a person goes through a journey of awareness to information gathering to remaining informed or taking further action?
The majority of Americans become aware of an issue from individuals with broad reach (celebrities, influencers, the media, politicians/government officials)—but they look to those much closer to them (spouses, family, friends), as well as credentialed professionals (doctors, scientists) to help dissect the information and make decisions as a result.
However, that doesn’t mean celebrities and those in the outer circle are futile. On the contrary, these messengers are key for the crucial first stage of the knowledge journey: generating awareness. Thus when paired with sources deemed credible and knowledgeable, influencers and celebrities can successfully leverage their reach and audience to spread information and generate awareness on broad levels.
As a person moves through the knowledge journey (to information gathering and remaining informed), different messengers are needed: The closer a person is to one’s inner circle, the more that person is generally trusted for information and decision-making.
Here are four recommendations for selecting and executing a strategy that leverages trusted messengers across all stages of the knowledge journey.
1. Pick your messengers carefully.
When considering the most trusted messengers for your cause or campaign, first identify all relevant participants within the ecosystem of the issue. Then select the messengers who will deliver the right message against each goal, based on their degree of trust within the context of the topic or category.
For example, a celebrity may be crucial in generating broad awareness and urgency to get a flu shot, but doctors and pharmacists (or even one’s friends/family) will help drive appointment sign-ups.
2. Meet your audience where they are along the knowledge journey.
Behavior change doesn’t happen in a day! Meet your audience where they are along the knowledge journey (awareness, information gathering, remaining informed/making a decision) by developing an influencer strategy to reach them at each stage.
In other words, someone who’s just becoming aware of an issue isn’t ready to begin taking action for it. Ensure messengers and messages are aligned throughout the entire journey.
3. Leverage trusted messengers to develop the creative strategy, not just activate it.
Messengers don’t only have to be message deliverers. Depending on their role, expertise, and closeness to the audience you’re trying to reach, trusted messengers can also play a vital role in developing your campaign’s creative strategy—in addition to activating it.
For example, if your campaign’s social media influencer already has strong ideas on how to talk to their followers to generate broad awareness, leverage those ideas for the awareness stage. If the campaign leverages a scientist to help your audience gather more information about climate change, get their expert opinion on the message and delivery—and how to leverage additional scientists.
4. Use the outer circle to influence the inner circle.
Finally, don’t forget to influence the influencers. Our 2022 study reiterated that one’s inner circle is the most trusted type of messenger. As such, a potential campaign strategy could be to focus on influencing both the target audience and also the potential inner circles of the target audiences through messengers from the outer circle with a broader reach.
In today’s era of influence, brands and causes must work to identify, prepare and leverage these trusted messengers across each phase of the knowledge journey if they want to truly generate knowledge, shift attitudes, and drive desired behaviors for the social issues on which they work.