Takeaways from the Edelman Trust Barometer 2011
The Edelman Trust Barometer 2011 findings were published last week on the eve of the opening of the World Economic Forum in Davos. Whilst everyone agrees that being trustworthy is undoubtedly a good thing, it is fascinating to hear the impact being trustworthy has on consumer behaviour and corporate reputation.
2010 will be remembered for some huge corporate crisis situations, such as the BP oil spill, Toyota product recall, as well as bank bail outs and other misdemeanours in the financial sector. Given such a roller-coaster 12 months it was interesting to hear that if you go into a crisis as a distrusted company, it takes only 1-2 negative stories for a person to believe negative news. However, if you go in as a trusted company, it takes only 1-2 positive stories for you to achieve belief.
Whilst there is a lot of data to digest, the following points are what I think will have the biggest impact on my work in 2011.
1. The importance of search
Most PRs are beginning to appreciate the importance of search and the barometer confirmed this, with search engines ranked as the first place people look for information. This is really important as an understanding of SEO is not within the traditional skills set of many PRs – something that will have to change. The key point to stress is how important it is to ensure content about your client can be easily found online. Some simple solutions include having information that people want on an optimized website, blog and digital embassies, such as a Facebook Group, Twitter stream and YouTube channel. I expect search and content to be key battlegrounds in 2011.
2. Get your CEO or expert to talk
Given the economic uncertainty over the last 12 months, it is perhaps unsurprising that credible spokespeople such as CEOs or experts are the most trusted people to speak during a crisis. People are looking for expertise, knowledge and reassurance as we emerge from the financial crisis into an age of information obesity. The key insight for me is which expert should do the talking during a crisis. The barometer found that if a crisis is related to a product recall issue a company expert or the CEO should do the talking. However, if the issue is to do with the environment or a community issue, it has to be the CEO. Generally speaking, trust in the CEO is actually rising and I believe there is an expectation that bad CEOs have left their posts, whilst good leaders have successfully guided their organisations through tough economic times and remained.
3. Engage NGOs
One of the standout findings from the barometer is that for the first time, trust in NGOs in key developing markets is equivalent to that of business, a fantastic increase over the past five years, which has been attributed to the evolution of local civil society brands and rising prosperity. Importantly NGOs continue to be the most trusted institution in Western economies. Subsequently, serious consideration has to be given to NGOs and the role they could play in any communications programme. NGOs have far more credibility, trust and influence than many give them credit for.
4. The media are less trusted
Trust in the UK media is falling, which no doubt can be attributed to the march towards infotainment from hard news and the phone hacking saga which shows no signs of relenting. As PR professionals this is hugely significant. Although, a double page spread in a red top is often deemed a huge success in terms of ‘coverage’ and ‘AVE’, if the publication is not viewed as credible or trustworthy you are going to struggle to transfer this ‘success’ into action. Action is the important word here. Communications activity needs to transfer into actions that have business outcomes. This finding should also get us thinking beyond the traditional PR model that targets journalists and towards the stakeholder universe model. PR is about engaging communities that matter to companies rather than gaining column inches.
5. Decrease in trust in ‘people like me’
The barometer found that people over the last year have been turning to experts rather then ‘people like me’. This is interesting for anybody working in social media and could impact how we approach communications, but it may also be something to do with the maturing of the definition of ‘people like me’ which Mark Hanson, Deputy Managing Director of Wolfstar also picked up on. Personally, my Facebook friends and Linked In connections are people I know or have down business with, but a much smaller number I consider to be ‘people like me’ or those I would trust for a recommendation. The report notes:
“This may be a result of changing attitudes about what constitutes “a person like me” rather than an indication of a significant decrease in the actual credibility of peer-to-peer communication. With some estimates indicating that the average Facebook user does not know one-fifth of the 500 people typically listed as friends on his or her page, it is reasonable to ask whether the meaning of the word “friend” and by association “a person like me” has become devalued.”
You can check out the #Trust2011 hashtag to see other people’s thoughts on this years findings. It’s always insightful to see what the Edelman Trust Barometer discovers and I would be interested to hear what your key takeaways from this years findings are.