The global PR agency Edelman has just released the findings of its 2009 Trust Barometer, which make very interesting reading. Here's the Executive Summary.
The global study, now in its tenth year, found that nearly two in three informed publics—62% of 25-to-64-year-olds surveyed in 20 countries—say they trust corporations less now than they did a year ago.
I guess that's not surprising given the events of recent months, but the scale of the decline over 12 months is truly worrying. Trust in US-based business—at 38% down from 58% last year—is the lowest in the Barometer’s tracking history among informed publics ages 35 to 64— even lower than in the wake of Enron and the dot-com bust. Dark days indeed.
This pattern was echoed elsewhere in the world and what is abundantly clear is that business is facing a massive and global crisis of trust right now. The implications of this are stark - consumers are calling for tighter regulation of business and more government control.
Trust in traditional information sources and spokespeople also took a big hit. Trust in nearly every type of news outlet and spokesperson is down from last year among Edelman's 18-country tracking audience of 35-to-64-year-olds. Only 29% and 27% view information as credible when coming from a CEO or government official, respectively, declining from 36% and 32% last year.
So where do we go from here? Well, Edelman's advice is to adopt a formal strategy of public engagement. The keys, they say, are more private sector diplomacy (including closer ties with government and NGOs), mutual social responsibility (benefiting society and the bottom line), shared sacrifice (leaders who genuinely feel the pain, greater transparency and more collaboration with employees) and continuous conversation (accessibility and a regular, two way dialogue). They expand on this in the executive summary and, on the whole, it strikes me as very sound advice.
I haven't had time to fully digest this research, but there are two big things that immediately jump out for me as an internal communicator...
First off, the trend away from trusting official sources of information towards trusting 'people like me' continues apace. This trend is evident in the big wide world, and it also applies internally - employees trust other employees more than they trust leaders. As communicators we need to respond to and embrace this. That's one of the reasons social media is so damn important - it provides access to and empowers 'people like me' (whether they're employees or consumers). The world order is changing and we need to change with it.
Second, and the points are linked, we need to become much, much better at engaging our employees, empowering them and equipping them to become advocates for the organisation. The lines between internal and external are blurring fast - today your employees are as much your spokespeople as your CEO. Let's face it, they are often more trusted, more credible and more accessible. We need to face up to this reality. Lots of little voices are louder than one big voice.
I'm getting philosophical and will stop there, but this is seriously interesting stuff and, for those who have the inclination, there is a wealth of supporting information, including video-based presentations of the results, available on the Barometer website.
Check it out.