Overcoming the trust gap

Corporate America, the good news is that people trust you more than they trust the government

4259281193_859f22ba22The bad news is that being more trustworthy than the government isn’t much of an achievement.

The Edelman Trust Barometer, that annual worldwide survey of the trustworthiness of government, business, NGOs, and media, was released earlier this year. The key takeaway for business is that while the corporate world is more trusted than our elected officials, people don’t trust it very much, and they trust people in their social media networks a whole lot more.

For example, in the U.S., 38 percent of survey respondents don’t trust business leaders to tell them the truth. Think about that—when the CEO of one of America’s most venerable brands speaks, more than one out of every three people who hear the message thinks he or she is lying.

That’s bad.

When asked which industries they trust the most to do “what’s right,” banks and financial service companies scored the worst: just 47 and 45 percent, respectively, trusted these types of companies to do the right thing. When you boil it down, it means that more than half of all people ages 25-64 in 20 countries around the world think banks and financial service companies are probably up to no good.

Furthermore, companies are performing the worst in some of the areas that people consider the most important, including attributes such as “listens to customers,” “transparent practices,” and “communicates frequently and honestly.”

Wow. Corporate America, you’ve got a problem or as we say in the marketing biz… an opportunity to make some changes. Fortunately, there are some institutions that people still trust, and that includes traditional media (which saw a 10 percent increase in the number of people who trust them), but more importantly, social media. The rising star in this year’s Edelman report was social media sites, which saw a 75 percent increase in the number of people who trust them.

Edelman recommends using social media and engaging company employees to tell the company’s story. (We’d recommend doing the right thing, being honest, and so on, as well.) About 6 out of 10 consumers say they need to hear something about a company 3-5 times before they’ll believe it. Social media is the perfect way to accomplish that—one positive post that spreads to just a few people, and your company may have new converts.

Although it’s discouraging that so few people trust corporations, you can’t blame them. Acting responsibly and honestly is up to business leaders. That kind of role modeling may require massive restructuring, rebuilding corporate cultures, and rethinking what a company’s real mission is. Then it’s a matter of how to walk-the-talk. Once that’s done, communicating becomes more believable and effective, especially when companies take advantage of the channels that consumers still trust.

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