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The Rebirth of Trusted Gatekeepers (Thinks Out Loud Episode 307)

Trusted Gatekeepers: Conceptual image of hand holding up bridge

People don’t just want great content; they want content they can trust. That desire, that need, creates an opportunity for folks who curate and cultivate great content as part of their brand. In short, it’s a market demanding the rebirth of trusted gatekeepers.

As mentioned in the show, in a world where artificial intelligence and algorithms determine what we see and hear, customers increasingly crave authentic connection.

The latest episode of Thinks Out Loud looks at how you can start to create those authentic connections with your customers. And how you can become a trusted gatekeeper in their lives.

Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you.

Thinks Out Loud Episode 307: The Rebirth of Trusted Gatekeepers Headlines and Show Notes

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Running time: 16m 47s

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Transcript: The Rebirth of Trusted Gatekeepers (Thinks Out Loud Episode 307)

Well, hello again, everyone, and welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital marketing expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. This is episode 307 of the big show. Thank you so much for tuning in. I very, very much appreciate it.

The Most Trusted Man in America… the OG Trusted Gatekeeper

So I have a question for you. I want to start today with a question. And the question is, do you know who Walter Cronkite is? I’m confident that some of you absolutely. You think it’s ridiculous that I’m asking this question. It’s like asking who Elvis was or Beyonce. And some of you undoubtedly don’t know who he was because he died in I think 2009. He was a journalist. We hosted the CBS Evening News from 1962 to 1981, but he was much more than that. According to Wikipedia, there are numerous citations to Cronkite as being, quote, "The most trusted man in America."

Also according to Wikipedia, Cronkite is, and this is a quote, "Credited with influencing Lyndon B. Johnson’s decision to drop out of the 1968 United States presidential election." Johnson reportedly said, President Johnson reportedly said, "If I’ve lost Walter Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America." That’s how influential a figure he was. I mean, he was the original influencer. And he was a gatekeeper. And I talk about gatekeepers a lot because they still exist.


When I talk about the frightful five or AGFAM or whichever term you prefer, Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, they’re gatekeepers. They have enormous market power, and usually, they’re not afraid to use it. I’ve said many times gatekeepers going to gate. And depending on who you talk to, you’re going to get different versions of that. Some people prefer the acronym FAANG, F-A-N-G or F-A-A-N-G, for Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google because they add Netflix to the list, drop Microsoft.

But you get the idea. The idea is these folks are incredibly influential and have enormous, enormous power. And to go back to Walter Cronkite for a second, when he used to sign off his broadcasts, so he would state the news, he would deliver the news, and then he would finish the broadcast by saying, "And that’s the way it is, Monday, November 2nd, 2020," which is extraordinary because the implication was, if Walter Cronkite said it, that’s the way it is. That’s the in fact.

The Frightful Five Are Gatekeepers… But Not Trusted

Now, can you imagine Google or Facebook or Twitter or TikTok or Amazon, whomever, saying, "That’s the way it is. That’s it. That’s what you get," and not getting the crap kicked out of them? I mean, look at, what’s been going on with hearings on Capitol Hill here in the States and hearings in Europe and places like that around the market power that folks have, like Google, like Facebook, like Amazon, et cetera.

And I think the difference here is that they’re not just gatekeepers. I mean, Walter Cronkite was a gatekeeper, but the difference is that the large players, the frightful five, AGFAM, FAANG, whatever you choose to call them, are not trusted gatekeepers. There’s a real lack of trust that people have in the information that they receive through these channels. And I think it’s led to this really interesting shift that we’re starting to see.

Customers Seek Out Trusted Gatekeepers

If you look at the growth of things like podcasts or subscription newsletters, and there’s some extraordinary stats. You know, podcasts have grown around 38% in the last three years. More than half of all Americans now listen to podcasts, and obviously the numbers are similar as you go around the world. If you talk about paid subscription newsletters, this is according to the Washington Post, paid subscriptions to newsletters written by journalists are up 11% year on year. These are essentially single person, single focus magazines.

Now, whether these are a sustainable model, whether newsletters represent a sustainable model, whether podcasts represent a sustainable model or not is not the point. What I think is interesting is that we’ve gone through something similar more than once over the course of digital as a channel, digital as a medium. We went through something similar with blogs, admittedly, without very effective means of monetization, and we’ve through the same thing with early social media influencers, at least until they were bought up or flooded with paid and/or spammy content.

How Companies Seek to Rebuild Trust

But we keep cycling back again and again to the same thing. I wrote a post about this called When People are Your Brand in 2006. And yes, that was a long time ago. That was 14 years ago. What’s really interesting about that article, very much in hindsight, I could not have known 14 years later that I would be talking about it today in a way that was meaningful, is that the article started off with the news that Danny Sullivan was leaving the blog or website Search Engine Watch. He’d started the blog in 1997. He left, as noted in the post, to start up Search Engine Land in 2006. And he was there until 2017. And today, he works for Google. He’s the face of Google to many search engine marketing professionals.

And I think that’s really interesting, and I think that gets to the point of trust and gatekeepers. Why did Google hire this very well-respected journalist with a 20 year career in talking about search to talk to search professionals? Because they get he’s trusted. They get he is seen as an objective source of information and an objective source of trusted information. If Danny Sullivan says, "That’s the way it is," there’s an audience that says, "I believe that. I trust him."

Artificial Intelligence Demands Authentic Connection

I think when we talk about a world where content is determined for us and curated for us by artificial intelligence, there’s a real desire among people, among customers, among human beings for authentic connection. I’m increasingly beginning to believe that the alternative to artificial intelligence is authentic connection. And I shouldn’t say the alternative, I should say the natural compliment. If we know that an algorithm is driving some component of what we see and what we hear as consumers, as customers, as people, we’d also like to know, is there a human face there? Is there something that I can connect with? Is there someone that I can connect with who I can trust?

And I think Google did a very smart thing. I don’t think they’re doing anything wrong by hiring Danny Sullivan. I think that they recognized that to that specific audience, I mean, if you want to get information about how search works, who are you going to trust more than a guy who has been doing journalism about search marketing for, oh, 23 years, or 20 years at the time they’d hired him?

If you are a fan of a particular journalist who covers a particular focus area, a topic area, would you rather get that in the Washington Post? Would you rather get that The New York Times? Would you rather get that in USA Today? Or would you rather get it directly from the source who you believe in? And I think that’s what’s driving that. That’s the same with podcasts, same with any other type of channel. That’s what people are looking for.

Gatekeepers Serve a Necessary Role

People always want gatekeepers. We want them. Why did people watch Walter Cronkite? Why do people use Google? Why do people use Facebook? Because there’s a lot of information out there and it’s really great if you could go to one place and be comfortable that you’re getting quality information you can trust.

How You Can Become a Trusted Gatekeeper

And here’s why that matters, because you are a gatekeeper too, or you could be a gatekeeper too. When I talk about content is king, this is a part of what I’m talking about. It’s about building trust with your audience. It’s about building trust with your customers. Who is the voice of your company? Who is the trusted source? Who’s the Walter Cronkite of your business? And who can you partner with who is trusted? Who’s the voice of your industry? Who’s the voice of your market? Who is that trusted source? Who’s that Walter Cronkite?

Because we know customers are looking for information that matters. And when I say who can you partner with, I don’t mean not buy space from or buy sponsored content with. I mean, you can do that, but can you also build a relationship with those people, with those media outlets, with those journalists, with those influencers, that they’re organically talking about what you do and the benefit you bring to your customers, the benefit you bring to the market?

Tools Trusted Gatekeepers Use

When you think about things like your email list, why are you growing an email list? Because you are trying to connect with people who want to hear from you. And the point of the email list isn’t the size of the list. It’s the quality of it. It is the depth of the relationship that you have with the people on that list and the depth of the relationship that you have with people in social and the depth of the relationship that you have with people who you talk to in real life. Because that’s where you actually find your best customer relationships. That’s where you drive your long-term growth.

So when I talk about content is king, when I make that claim even today — because increasingly, you have people asking questions about whether or not content really is king — I’m really asking not about are you creating clever ads or are you telling stories that make you look like the hero necessarily. I’m talking about are you creating content that is genuinely useful to your customer base? Will your customer seek you out to help answer questions when they have a time of need?

Trusted Gatekeepers Conclusion

I’ve talked about this in terms of questions you need to be asking for your business right now. It’s what matters to your customers. People need help, and there is no reason why you cannot be the person that they go get help from, as long as you’re willing to put in the effort to be that person, to be that company, to be that place. And if you do that, you’re going to find that customers won’t go looking for somebody else to be their Walter Cronkite. They won’t be looking for someone else to be their trusted gatekeeper. They’re going to come looking for you directly. And that ultimately is what’s going to benefit your business in the long run. And I think I can say with a fair bit of confidence, having been talking about this at least for the last 14 years, if not for the last 20, that’s the way it is.

Thinks Out Loud Credits and Closing

Now, looking at the clock on the wall, we are out of time for this week, but I want to remind you that you can find the show notes for today’s episode, as well as an archive of all past episodes, by going to Again, that’s Just look for episode 307. You can also subscribe in any of the episodes that you find on to have Thinks Out Loud delivered to your favorite podcatcher every single week. You can also find Thinks Out Loud on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher Radio, Overcast, wherever fine podcasts are found. Just do a search for Thinks Out Loud or Tim Peter Thinks Out Loud. We should show up for any of those.

And while you’re there, I would very much appreciate it if you could provide us a positive rating or review. It helps people find us. It helps us show up better in their search. It helps new listeners understand a little bit better about what this show is all about, and it makes an enormous difference to the podcast. I’d really, really appreciate it.

Thinks Out Loud on Social Media

You can also find Thinks Out Loud on Facebook by going to You can find me on Twitter using the Twitter handle @tcpeter. And of course you can email me by sending an email to Again, that’s

Sponsor Message

As with every episode, I’d like to think SoloSegment, our sponsor. SoloSegment is such a cool product. It’s a very, very, very cool service. I have a close association with them, I want to be very clear. SoloSegment uses machine learning and natural language processing and anonymous behavioral data to connect website visitors, that is the people on your website, with the content they’re looking for to help accomplish their goals, and that helps you accomplish yours.

SoloSegment take what does this in a way that protects privacy for your site visitors too. They understand that most of the people who come to your site think that you don’t know who they are. Their view is you need to use anonymous behavioral data to understand what your customer’s needs are and give them the content that actually progresses them along their journey. When you do this, it improves the efficiency and effectiveness of your marketing team. It’s incredibly simple to install on your site, and you can learn more about SoloSegment by going to Again, that’s

Thinks Out Loud Closing

With that, I want to say again how much I appreciate you tuning in today, how much I appreciate you tuning in for every single episode. It means so much to me, particularly with everything that’s going on in the world.

I hope you stay well. I hope you stay healthy. I hope you stay prosperous. I hope you have a great rest of the week. I hope you have a wonderful weekend and I will look forward to talking with you here on Thinks Out Loud next time. Until then, please be well, be safe, and as ever, take care, everybody.

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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