Researcher Toni Heijbroek promises to stick to the facts when pondering on the state of our public psyche and the findings from this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer.
Who do you trust? Why do you trust them? These questions permeate our lives from the workplace to our weekend conversations in pub corners. But the consequences for business and comms are far greater than trusting your mate to get the round correct.
For 18 years, headlines from the Edelman Trust Barometer have provided insight into the state of trust in our international communities. With 33,000 respondents worldwide, it is the mother of all surveys. It’s highlighted shifts in the way we, as global citizens, view the world and the institutions in it. In 2017, trust was in crisis. 2018 was coined the year for the ‘Battle of Truth.’ And the 2019 results are in... but what do they actually mean for politics, media and comms?
THE POWER OF POLARISATION
This year has seen ‘trust inequality’ return to record highs. As part of their barometer, Edelman have calculated the average percent of trust placed in NGOs, business, government and media by two groups of society. The ‘informed public’, the top 16% of the global population holding the top quarter of global household income, who went to university and the ‘mass public’. The 84% of people around the world who aren’t so lucky.
This increase in ‘trust inequality’ means the gap between our global population’s ‘informed public’ and ‘mass population’ has widened.
This tells us that, unsurprisingly, as a global society we are becoming more polarised over whom we trust and why. We, as Brits, are in an even more dire state. Our ‘informed public’ sits happily in a state of ‘trust’ at 64 points, with our ‘mass population’ 24 points lower in a state of active distrust. We are a nation divided along a number of fault lines.
Take politics, for example. In a post-referendum environment, it will hardly come as a shock that things are not looking rosy for our political elite. But 3 in 5 UK citizens believe Government doesn’t listen to “people like them”, regardless of their leaning in the 2016 referendum. And half of us believe the socio-political system is broken. For better or worse, you need look no further than Parliament’s new Independent Group of MPs, or TIGgers, to see that this disillusionment with politics is echoing in the halls of Westminster.
We are also divided along gendered lines. Gender Pay Gap reporting and the #MeToo movement are indicative that inequalities and injustices are not going away. Our collective desire for change has never been greater, fuelled by a mutual feeling that governments and elected officials just don’t get it.
BUT WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR MEDIA?
This collective urge for change means our desire for fact finding has sky rocketed. Our engagement in the news agenda is up, the disengaged are becoming more engaged, and more and more people are amplifying the news agenda through their own personal social channels or blogs.
PR professionals everywhere can sleep easy, as this means our market is growing. As more people engage with and augment news, there is the ever increasing opportunity for our work to affect more and more people. Our scope for impact is on the up.
Yet with power, comes great responsibility. Awareness of scary algorithms designed to perpetuate echo chambers of news online are coming under fire. And two thirds of us worry that the news we consume may be weaponised and fake.
SO WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? WHO DO WE TRUST?
If you are reading this from the relative comfort of your ergonomic desk chair, take a moment with me. Do you trust your boss?
Turns out, 73% of us in the UK do.
Our gradual reordering of trust has landed “My Employer” with the top job. They are considered more trustworthy than NGOs, governments and the media. And they hold this position because in our polarising world, we look to relationships that are close at hand.
Your employer is much more tangible than government, for example. The talking heads in Central Lobby on the Ten O’Clock News are a far cry away from who you see across the office on a Monday morning.
These relationships make us feel more empowered. They are more controllable.
Surprisingly, this also rings true for those who are more traditionally considered disenfranchised. Even the majority of those who believe the system is failing them trust their employers.
From the Edelman Trust Barometer: For each one, respondents were asked to indicate how much they trust an institution to do what is right, using a nine-point scale where one means that you “do not trust them at all” and nine means that you “trust them a great deal.” “Your employer” was a category for those who are employed, but not self employed.
BUSINESS AS USUAL?
However we are not allowing the top cats to rest on their laurels. Globally, three quarters of us say that CEOs should take the lead on change rather than waiting for the Government to impose it. This means that we are increasingly expecting employers to be at the forefront of issues like gendered pay, prejudice and discrimination, and even the environment.
Similarly, 7 in 10 of us think it is “critically important” for CEOs to respond to challenging times. This means we want our business leaders to take a stance on political events and national crises. Board rooms across the country: take note.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR COMMS?
As we look to our employers more and more as trusted partners, the role of internal comms gets ever more important. If we trust our businesses so much more than our governments, and our media outlets, why aren’t we all utilising internal comms as part of our campaigning?
The year of ‘Trust at Work’ shows the increasing necessity of successful internal comms. Employers need to be vocal on change that is happening in their businesses and in the wider community. They need to start and continue meaningful conversations that support workplace progression. They need to run open and honest internal comms campaigns that nourish this growing trust.
Put simply, employees are putting their trust in the workplace, which means we need to trust them with our campaigns.