"So many of my clients still haven’t made much progress introducing social media into their employee communication programs. They’re like Sisyphus, trying to move the social media rock uphill, but unsuccessful against the gravitational forces of senior management indifference and legal cautions and free-floating anxiety that employees will A) waste time and B) misbehave and cause the downfall of the company.

But here’s data that indicates that naysayers are looking at this issue from the wrong angle. A new study by the Pew Research Center first disputes the myth that social media is just for kids. In Pew’s sample, 79% of American adults said they use the Internet and nearly half of adults (47%), or 59% of internet users, say they use at least one social network. This means the average age of adult-SNS users has shifted from 33 in 2008 to 38 in 2010. Over half of all adult social network users are now over the age of 35.

Interesting, right? But here’s the really intriguing part: The Pew study finds a direct link between social media use and trust. Here’s Pew’s conclusion: “We asked people if they felt ‘that most people can be trusted.’ When we used regression analysis to control for demographic factors, we found that the typical Internet user is more than twice as likely as others to feel that people can be trusted. Further, we found that Facebook users are even more likely to be trusting. We used regression analysis to control for other factors and found that a Facebook user who uses the site multiple times per day is 43% more likely than other internet users and more than three times as likely as non-internet users to feel that most people can be trusted.”

Why should trust be affected by connections made via social media? Fast Company writer Adam Penenburg connects the dots in his June article. He starts with the fundamentals: “We humans are hard-wired to commingle with one another offline and on-, and the web and its platforms like Facebook and Twitter make it more efficient than ever. That's because virtual relationships can be as real as actual relationships.”

And trust is more than a good feeling, writes Mr. Penenburg: It has a profound impact on how we humans operate. For example, trust influences what we buy. “A 2009 Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey study found that shoppers value the opinions of people they know the most, followed by online reviews written by strangers or in online communities.”

So, if you can change the focus of the social media conversation away from the worry-wart negatives, and toward the incredible potential of social media to build trust, maybe you can finally make some progress. You can push that rock all the way up the hill and bring social media into the mix. Wouldn’t that be cool?

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