How Facebook became the new Book of Common Prayer

Over the last couple of years, the world has undergone some pretty massive social changes. The loss of trust in certain traditional hierarchical power structures has been one crucial aspect of these changes.

Our agency, Chemistry, based in Dublin, Ireland, conducts a large scale piece of research every fortnight, that is nationally representative. The results not only provide us with real time intelligence about what people are thinking, and how they are feeling, but perhaps more importantly, it allows us to track this over time.

One of the most significant findings in this research has been the complete evaporation of trust, by all kinds of Irish people – in all kinds of authority.

We’ve been tracking the decline of trust since 2001 and now realise that we’re witnessing nothing short of a massive sea change.

The Irish Times picked up on our research findings with the headline “Most people no longer trust church, Government or banks.”

The Catholic Church smartly responded by quoting the part of our research that the Times didn’t put in their headline… ‘We are informed that 59 per cent of people distrust the media. This is a higher figure of distrust than applies to the church, yet it doesn’t make the headline. Unlike the analysis offered by the article concerning the church, there are no reasons given to explain this tripling of distrust in the media since 2001.’

But apart from erstwhile trusted institutions arguing over which of them is losing less trust, the real question is… if not traditional authority figures, who are we turning to, to place our trust in?

The simple fact is that, we are now witnessing the largest transfer of trust in the Western World, from hierarchical structures to peer groups since the Reformation.

That revolution was also fuelled by a simple advance in media – the publication in 1549 of the The Book of Common Prayer.

Because this meant that anyone, anywhere, could access the higher power, directly and without having to go through one, fixed point intermediary in the form of a priest or member of the Church hierarchy.

The current revolution is being fuelled by social media. Our Book of Common Prayer is, in fact, Facebook. Social media has enabled and empowered consumers to ask each other what they should think and do, rather than have to rely on the traditional authorities.

And it’s not just opinions that are being shared socially. Peer to peer file sharing has extended to complex financial transactions like peer to peer betting and peer to peer banking.

And this also has major implications for those other esteemed repositories of trust…. Brands.

In an extraordinarily prescient book, “Communities Dominate Brands: Business and marketing challenges for the 21st century”, Tomi T. Ahonen and Alan Moore, predicted this phenomenon with great accuracy. Crucially, for Ahonen and Moore this loss of trust has little to do with failings in the old order (they published in 2005 when the global economy was doing very nicely, thank you), and everything to do with digital technologies moving from an era of “search” to one of “sharing”.

In a recent piece of research by Forrester it was pointed out that brands have been asking ‘What will the new digital media do FOR us?’ Whereas the real question should have been ‘What will the new digital media do TO us?’

And much as we all love the cavaliers, and their defence of the old hierarchical structures, we know who wins in the end…

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