Authenticity and Design: How Consumers Feel About Online Content

October 13, 2015

Adobe-Consumer-Likelihood-Questioning-Content-Authenticity-Oct2015A slight majority (53%) of US consumers agree that, compared to 5 years ago, there is too much content out there, and 45% wish they could frequently “unplug” from all content and devices. While most feel that content has become easier to create and more visual, levels of skepticism regarding the authenticity of content are running high, according to a recent study [pdf] from Adobe.

Indeed, a majority of adults report being likely to question the authenticity of a variety of forms of content, including:

  • Whether a news article is biased (61%);
  • Whether a photo in an ad has been altered (60%);
  • Whether the author has been paid or otherwise incentivized to provide a positive review (60%); and
  • Whether a photo or image posted by a company has been altered (58%).

Similarly, a majority are likely to question the authenticity of photos and videos posted by people they don’t know, among other forms of content.

Indeed, the only content forms that a minority will question are photos and videos posted by peers. As such, content shared by friends and family members (72%) and content shared by a work colleague or peer (59%) – independent of who created the content – are the most trusted, according to the study.

Few other content sources earn trust from a majority of respondents. Only a slight majority trust content from a traditional broadcast media network (55%), from a company whose products they buy (54%), or from a traditionally printed newspaper or magazine such as the New York Times (54%). These findings are backed by recent survey results from Gallup, which show trust in mass media dropping to a record low.

Yet, trust in content from traditional media still beats other sources, per the study. For example, few trust content from a professional blogger (36%), an entertainment news outlet such as Buzzfeed (34%), from an entertainment celebrity (31%) or a YouTube celebrity (31%).


These are interesting findings in light of other research that has found a higher degree of trust in branded content that appears on TV and in print than on social channels, with Facebook being the notable exception.

A key theme to emerge from Adobe’s study is the greater degree of trust in information from those considered more likely to be peers. For example:

  • 68% consider breaking news to be more trustworthy when coming from an eyewitness than from a news anchor;
  • 84% consider a product endorsement to be more trustworthy from an ordinary user than a celebrity; and
  • 73% would trust a music recommendation from a close friend over one from a music service based on past preferences.

The Adobe study notes that Millennials are more likely than Gen Xers and Baby Boomers to question the authenticity of online content, using skepticism around photo and video alterations as examples. At the same time, maybe Millennials only have themselves to blame. After all, separate results from the report indicate that 35% of Millennials deem entertaining content more important to them than accurate content. By comparison, only 20% of Gen Xers and 10% of Baby Boomers feel the same way.

Further, Millennials emerge as the generation least likely to confirm the accuracy of content before sharing, with almost 4 in 10 not checking to see if the information they are about to post is accurate. And only a minority (43%) think about the appropriateness of a photo they are about to post.

Beyond content authenticity, the Adobe research also examines interactions with content, with some interesting findings:

  • Millennials use more devices and consume more sources of content than adults on average;
  • While laptops and desktops are the digital devices most commonly used by Gen Xers and Baby Boomers, Millennials use their smartphones most frequently;
  • Online search engines are the most common sources of content for Millennials and Gen Xers on a daily basis, while cable and satellite TV lead among Baby Boomers;
  • Given 15 minutes to consume content, 66% of respondents would watch a video report on breaking news rather than read a report on breaking news, and 59% would skim articles on trends rather than read a long article on one issue;
  • Design matters to consumers, as two-thirds (73% among Millennials) would rather read something beautifully designed than something simple and plain if they had only 15 minutes with which to do so;
  • When viewing content across their personal and professional lives, roughly two-thirds or more value content that holds their attention, displays well on the device they’re using, and has overall good design; and
  • More than one-third of respondents will stop engaging with content altogether if images won’t load (39%), it takes too long to load (39%), the content is too long (38%) or the content is unattractive in its layout or imagery (38%).

About the Data: The survey was fielded from September 12-16, 2015 among 2,008 US consumers aged 18 and older, who were required to use at least one digital device. The research was split into two 20 minute surveys, one with 1,002 respondents and one with 1,006 respondents. The margin of error for the total sample is +/- 2.19%.

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