Trust. It’s one of the most elusive and important currencies in our society. In a world where trust seems to vanish more and more each passing day, Edelman shares the numbers behind what we trust, why we trust it, and what it means when our trust in institutions change over time.
Edelman’s Trust Barometer has measured trust in 27 countries for more than two decades. Last week, PRSA Silicon Valley’s Aarti Shah sat down Margot Edelman, GM of Edelman Bay Area, to break down the barometer’s findings and analyze what they mean for public relations professionals.
Government and Media Losing Trust
It may not surprise you to hear one of the biggest trends from the 2022 barometer was the fall in trust in government and media. This fall in trust is attributed to divisiveness. Widely, there is no single media source regarded as reputable. Although very few are seen as outright unreliable, search engines and traditional media, which were once highly regarded, dropped in trust this year. Owned and social media, on the other hand, are largely distrusted by most people who view them as conduits for the increasing dissemination of fake news.
This means in our day-to-day, we cannot depend entirely on traditional media to build and maintain trust. These are tools for information sharing, emphasizing corporate messages, and communicating with target audiences. However, when it comes to a crisis, we must think outside the box to reinstate that baseline of trust.
Business As Trust Leader
Across the board, business is cited as the most trusted institution, citing its competence and ability to follow through on solving social problems. Within the business umbrella, technology is the number one most trusted industry, followed by education, healthcare, manufacturing, and food & beverage.
So, what does it mean that business is leading the pack in terms of general trust? As public relations professionals, it means it’s important to identify core social values and recruit leadership that reflect those, both within and outside of their professional roles.
We’ve seen now like never before, stakeholders care about holding businesses accountable to act upon the values they claim. Boycotts have become an essential tools in calling for change. In the past year, we’ve seen large-scale boycotts of Kelloggs, Facebook, the Grammy’s, Ben & Jerry’s, Goya Beans and of course, Spotify, all citing a lapse corporate values.
“Gone are the days of Milton Friedman’s ‘the business of business is business,’” Edelman says. If business is the competent, trustworthy institution, it’s critical that we walk the walk. Some key findings on stakeholder activity include:
- 58% of consumers buy from or advocate for brands, based on values
- 60% of employees choose a workplace, based on beliefs and values
- 64% of investors make decisionsbased on beliefs and values
- 88% of institutional investors subject ESG to the same scrutiny as operational and financial considerations
This means business behavior and operations are equally as important to the product it provides or the wages it pays. For public relations professionals, the onus is on us to credibly communicate those behaviors and operations. Not only will this build and maintain consumer trust, but businesses will be held accountable and in turn, be able to attract and retain talent and investors.
The study found information quality as the most powerful trust builder, across institutions. Employees trust employer communications more than any other form of media. For business leaders, employee communication and transparency is key to facilitate company loyalty and have employees act as advocates in their own lives.
For communicators, consider the media ecosystem your organization is creating to share news, roadmaps, interviews and updates with employees. Social channels, newsletters, podcasts and others have been wildly successful since the pandemic in connecting and exciting employees.
The barometer also finds people want businesses to step in on societal issues including climate change, economic inequality, workforce reskilling, access to healthcare, trustworthy information, and more. However, CEOs are expected and wanted to inform policy, but not politics. NGOs and business need to act as stabilizing forces, not elective bodies.
Edelman’s research finds that the societal role business holds is here to stay, but calls on every institution to provide trustworthy information. People want more business leadership, particularly in long-term thinking that provides solutions over divisiveness. When looking to restore trust, give your clients the tools and messaging they need to be a unifier, and promote the continuation of clear, consistent, fact-based information.
Disproportionate trust threatens societal stability. When the expectation to solve any and every problem is placed largely on one institution, it places a burden that should be held across institutions to carry and better society. Shah asks Edelman about the relationship between the government/media decline in trust and business/ NGO rise in trust, to which Edelman speculates an “antagonistic relationship,” repeating recent headlines of “employee dissatisfaction, racism at a company, wage inequity,” and so on. We’re reminded our role is the liaison and translator between business and media. Our goal should be to help both institutions by fostering a symbiotic relationship through efforts that increase trust and confidence. Although they may be naturally antagonistic, they also depend on one another to survive. And while our work does not exist without media and business, the more serious factor is trust, because that is the core of our roles as public relations professionals – Trust.