We published the 18th annual Edelman Trust Barometer this week, and it has some important implications for corporate communicators. The tumultuous politics of the last 18 months are having measurable effects on who, how and what we trust.
Below are three practical insights from the UK data.
Rising trust in traditional media and low trust in social media means campaigns need to integrate across channels.
The last year saw a 13 point rise in trust in traditional media, with online-only publications like HuffPo and Buzzfeed also seeing a 5 point rise. Now, 61% say they trust traditional media. Journalists’ credibility is also up, from a measly 19% last year to a still-modest 32%.
In contrast, trust in search engines and social media both fell. A year of news stories about Russian bots, fake news and manipulative algorithms has driven down trust in newer forms of media. More than half (53%) worry about being exposed to fake news on social media, rising to 69% of high net worth individuals.
The rise in trust in traditional media is coupled with a continuing struggle to maintain reach, with almost one in five now saying they avoid news all together. Contrary to what many think, the great switch off is disproportionately focused among the well-educated, people in good jobs and people with children at home.
In that context, social media remains crucial to deliver reach – even news-avoiders flick through their social feeds. Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp show the strongest growth in usage amongst 16-18-year olds in the UK, while Facebook and Twitter continue to have very significant reach with key audiences.
Of course, the ability to combine social and traditional media depends on trusted media brands continuing to exist, so the declining fortunes of traditional media present a challenge for corporate communication professionals. There is a collective interest in the success of new models – from memberships to sponsored content to events.
Business leaders have renewed their licence to communicate. They need to use it.
If we had once had enough of experts, we are now happy to give them another chance – the UK data shows trust in CEOs and boards is up significantly (+14 points and +10 points respectively).
Trust in business in general is higher than trust in government or the media, and nearly on a par with trust in NGOs. Further, in 10 of the 28 countries we surveyed, business is the most trusted institution.
That doesn’t mean business is now held in high regard: it is not. More than half the population think business does not pay its fair share of tax, and that top executives are overpaid. Two in five think corruption is commonly accepted; the same proportion think the average worker is taken advantage of.
These concerns are systemic risks for business as well as specific challenges for particular businesses and sectors. Business as a whole needs to confront and address them. Managed retreat is not a strategy for rebuilding faith in capitalism. The majority (60%) expect CEOs to lead on change rather than wait for regulators to impose it.
The trick is for businesses to identify an area of social responsibility where they have the authority and credentials to be an effective voice, and then design a campaign that is authentic and powerful.
Politics will increasingly have to respond to the pessimism of the public.
The ‘cost of living crisis’ was a defining feature of David Cameron’s mid-term. It is back. More than a third of people think their standard of living will get worse this year, while only a fifth expect it will improve.
When campaigners and politicians complain about inequality, they are communicating a very real worry, shared by two thirds of the population – almost exactly the same proportion concerned about rising economic uncertainty.
Pessimism about the future is not just populist in character; in fact, the highest scoring concern in the survey was a perceived rise in intolerance.
Looking longer term, more than half the country are worried about rising automation.
None of these concerns appear to have had a large impact on attitudes towards Brexit: the country remains fairly evenly divided. However, it may go some way to explaining the 13 point rise in trust in Jeremy Corbyn – though at 36% he still lags Theresa May by 3 points.
These are just three of the most important findings. The full data has lessons about the role employees can play in communications, differences between different target audiences and what can drive increased trust. You can find the UK and global headline reports here.
You can also watch Today Programme Editor Sarah Sands, Buzzfeed Editor Janine Gibson, Daily Mirror Associate Editor Kevin Maguire, Financial Times Global Media Editor Matthew Garrahan and Google UK and Ireland Managing Director Ronan Harris discussing the findings here.