Published On: Sun, Jan 29th, 2012

Takeaways from the Edelman Trust Barometer 2012

The Edelman Trust Barometer 2012 findings were published this week, once again on the eve of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
The past 12 months will undoubtedly be remembered for the Fukushima disaster, occupy Wall Street movement, Euro zone crisis and phone-hacking scandal, all of which have impacted upon trust in government, business, NGOs and media. These major incidents have resulted in a historic fall in the trust of government and business, creating a leadership vacuum that has being ably filled by the quality, not tabloid media, whilst employees, have replaced CEOs as a credible spokesman.

In addition, this years Trust Barometer has its largest ever sample, having surveyed 30,000 people from both the general public and opinion forming elite.Whilst there is a lot of data to digest, the following points are what I think will have the biggest impact on my role in 2012.
1. Empower employees advocates
Anyone who works in digital media will be acutely aware of the importance and trust people place in those who make up their social networks, essentially, a regular person or somebody like yourself and it comes as no surprise to see trust in a ‘person like me’ jump from 43% to 65%. Interestingly, a ‘regular employee’ also rose from 34% to 50% and is now the fourth most credible spokesperson for your business, behind academics, technical experts and a ‘person like me’.People are turning to each other for validated information as trust in government and business is fractured. If businesses want to communicate effectively they need to identify, train and empower employee advocates (read ‘person like me’ or ‘regular employee’) who they can put forward as a spokesperson across earned, paid, social and owned media,
2. Re-prioritise the CEO
It has been a torrid year for both business and government in terms of trust, resulting in a clear and resounding vote of no confidence in the CEO. Trust has declined so rapidly that CEOs are considered the problem in some industries and it’s almost a bad idea for CEOs to be wheeled out. The key point here is that businesses must continue to engage stakeholders, but at this moment in time, there are better, more authentic, more trusted people to speak out than CEOs.

Over the years we’ve seen a certain fragility in trust, in that it is easy to lose, but difficult to regain. However, trust in CEOs can be won back by ushering in a new era of radical transparency; with new accountability and responsibility. Society now expects businesses to not only make money, but behave in a ethical way, whilst engaging all stakeholders. To regain trust CEOs have to be principle, not rules based leaders and their performance should be measured against business, ethical and engagement objectives.

3. Social media surge
One of the most important findings is the surge in social media (defined as social networking sites, content-sharing sites, blogs, and microblogging) as a trusted source of information, which saw an incredible 75% increase in trust among media sources.  Although, traditional media remains the most credible source, the growth in social media trust, represents the maturation and acceptance of social as a trusted source of information – and for PRs, this further strengthens the case for PR campaigns to have a social media element.

4. Media are filling the leadership vacuum
A leadership vacuum has emerged as the public now distrust government and businesses as they flounder under mounting debts and require more bail-outs. People are unsure who to trust, however the quality media have done admirably well filling this gap; reporting on the economic crisis and holding institutions to account. It’s important to recognise that not all media are considered equal, the phone-hacking scandal was uncovered by the Guardian and has been positioned as a tabloid vs. broadsheet battle. Nonetheless, the quality media continue to be well-trusted and should form an important part of your PR outreach.

5. Engage NGOs
One of the standout findings from this years barometer is that for the fifth year running NGOs are the most trusted institution in the world, and in 16 of the 25 countries surveyed, more trusted than business. This has big implications for business and serious consideration has to be given to NGOs and the role they could play in a communications program. NGOs have far more credibility, trust and influence than many give them credit for and businesses are well advised to begin identifying and engaging with NGOs who are broadly aligned with their objectives and world view.

You can check out the EdelTrust2012 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.

About the Author

- Marketing Manager with a passion for inbound at HubSpot, Founder of Growth Hack Talks, Blogger at and Chief Quaffer at .

Displaying 2 Comments
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  1. Colin Rose says:

    There is a lot of talk surrounding the need for radical transparency to regain public trust. How much of tis will be necessary once the financial markets stablise and people start getting raises again and can take a deep breath? I am starting to think the focus need be more on telling people what you are going to provide, and making sure you can provide it again and again.

    People call for transparency and information, but if this happened we’d all learn each others hidden agendas and be shocked and feel negatively toward the system even further. Instead of telling each other everything, why not engage in behaviour that need not be hidden?

    I have some more ideas on the Barometer I’ve dropped into my blog at – @colinrose

  2. Ben says:

    Hey Colin,

    Thanks for commenting.

    You touch on two key points here, which are intricately linked: radical transparency and ethical behaviour or ‘why not engage in behaviour that need not be hidden?’ as you put it.

    A theme discussed at Davos and reflected in the Edelman Trust Barometer is that businesses and government must change in order to regain their license to lead; which means being measured against more than economic performance.

    Big change is required to overturn this trust deficit and industries which have seen confidence tumble have the most work to do.

    However, such transformation requires a large shift in behaviour; which is best measured by business, engagement and ethical KPIs; all of which is underpinned by radical transparency.



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