The Trust Barometer–Must reading from Edelman

January 30, 2008

I have come to trust and look forward to Edelman’s Trust Barometer report. This year’s report shows some surprising changes and is well worth the read.

Edelman is incredibly smart to focus on trust and to position their firm around this issue. I have thought long and hard about this issue and come more firmly to the position that trust is the ultimate goal of most communication. Sure, we may send messages to inform, persuade, sell, get votes, warn, save lives, build reputation, etc., etc.,  but ultimately aren’t all those things about trust?

The topic I address most frequently in my public presentations is the erosion of trust and the reasons for that. Any frequent reader of this blog will know that I believe the media’s increasingly intensive drive to build and keep audiences in a hyper competitive atmosphere causes them to focus on what scares people, titillates them, and panders to their prejudices. And that approach to information distribution–while effective temporarily at building audiences–results in a loss of trust. Not just for the companies, celebrities, and reputations that get trashed in the process, but for the media themselves. This trust report shows the continuing loss of trust among media and entertainment. They are at the very bottom of the list of industries trusted right along side the oil companies.

One feature of the Edelman Barometer is its global focus. Comparing the trust in institutions between respondents in China, Europe and around the world vs. the US in interesting and informative.

The conclusion about who is the most credible spokesperson should give all communicators food for thought. In a world where you essentially trust no one, who can you trust? The answer essentially is “myself.” And the closest person to myself is someone just like me. The most believable person today is certainly not the CEO of a company, or the professional spokesperson, but the person in the company most like the audience or one they can most closely relate to as a peer. That gem alone I suspect will drive the thinking and communication efforts of many in the coming months and years.

The decline of television is also intriguing–related I’m certain the phenomenon of infotainment discussed above. Perhaps stunning to some is the significant rise of trust in the internet. I still hear all the time about “nobody can believe anything if it is on the internet.” Well, it may be true, but people aren’t buying it and communicators better start paying more attention to what is said–even by those ridiculous angry bloggers.

Edelman’s Vice Chairman Michael Deaver summarized the significance of this report with this statement: “Trust is the key objective for global companies today because it underpins corporate reputation and gives them license to operate,” said Michael Deaver, Vice Chairman, Edelman. “To build trust, companies need to localize communications, be transparent, and engage multiple stakeholders continuously as advocates across a broad array of communications channels.”

Think about this as you plan your crisis communication and reputation enhancement strategies this year:

1) Make building trust your ultimate objective.

2) Determine how you will measure it and use it as a benchmark in your progress.

3) Localize your communications–ultimately trust is about people dealing with people and that is local. Everything starts with relationship building–trust can’t happen across the ether and with a void of relationships.

4)  Be transparent. There is no substitute and no trust without it–and it amazes me to see how smart leaders and great organizations are still struggling with that simple concept.

5) Engage multiple stakeholders continuously. Trust is built one by one by one. But it has to be happening on a very broad scale all the time. Think about this when trust is really on the line when your organization has done something really wrong and hurt a lot of people, messed up the environment, impacted health, damaged people’s hopes. That’s when these principles really need to come into play.

6) Across a broad array of channels. We’ve talked here before about this being the day of multiple modes of communication. Fragmentation, segmentation, shifting technologies–it changes so fast your head spins. But the solution is not that difficult–multiple channels focused on relationship building with trust as the measurable end.

Now then, your 2008 work is cut out for you.

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2 Responses to “The Trust Barometer–Must reading from Edelman”

  1. LaTonja Says:

    Give. Me. A. Break. Edelman’s poll is an unreliable, self-serving pile of malarkey. Who do they survey? According to the methodology listed on their Web site http://www.edelman.com/trust/2008/prior/2006/methodology_06.asp):
    The people interviewed in the 2007 survey:
    * are college-educated
    * are 35 to 64 years of age
    * report a household income in the top quartile of their country
    * report a significant interest in and engagement with the media, and economic and policy affairs.

    This is hardly representative of the general public. This is an elitist sampling. So if all you care about is how much that narrow demographic trusts business or government or the media, have at it. But to make blanket statements really undercuts your credibility.

  2. gbaron Says:

    You probably won’t agree with this, but there is validity in understanding the opinions of a group that might be called “influencers” or “opinion leaders.” I learned this about a zillion years ago in grad school, based on studies from sociologist/communication theorist Paul Lazarfeld (I believe). It was called the “two step” flow. That is the general public’s opinion generally follows that of those who influence them, but it lags it. We have used this principle many times in reputation research we did that included both the public and influencers. We definitely saw the lag effect but also saw that the public generally and quite closely followed the opinions expressed by the influencers.


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