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30 January 2019

Edelman Trust Barometer 2019: UK Headlines for Communicators

News, Trust

The 2019 Trust Barometer is Edelman’s 19th annual trust and credibility survey, measuring trust across a number of institutions, sectors and geographies. The Barometer surveys more than 33,000 respondents across 27 countries. This year’s UK findings reveal a record trust gap between the informed and mass public, resulting in a Disunited Kingdom.

What do these findings mean for communicators? We’ve analysed the data and have set out three things to consider in the year ahead.

Three insights:

  • Businesses must embrace leadership on societal issues and change

With three out of five Britons believing their views are not represented in British politics, people are searching elsewhere for leadership on society’s most pressing challenges. With the news agenda dominated by Brexit uncertainty, consumers doubt whether the government is best qualified to lead us to a better future.

The expectation for leadership on change has shifted to business, and more specifically business leaders, who are now expected to address broader societal issues such as environmental protection, infrastructure investment and the prevention of tax avoidance. We’ve seen this reflected in major campaigns from global brands over the last 12 months – including Nike’s Colin Kaepernick led campaign, Lacoste’s work on endangered species, and more recently the much-discussed Gillette commercial.

CEOs in particular are expected to play a central role in not only talking about these issues, but also in driving change. This year more than four in five people said they believe CEOs should drive change instead of waiting for government to impose it – a significant 19-point jump on last year.

It’s not just consumers who expect action: 62% of employees are looking to their CEO for leadership during challenging times. In 2019, trusted brands will be those who not only talk about change, but actively participate in driving it forward. The time for fence-sitting by large corporates is long gone – businesses must take a clear stance on issues and lead from the front. This is a marked shift in the role of communicators, as we are increasingly expected to implement this change internally. 

  • It’s time for us to leverage experts better

After another seismic year in politics, both domestically and internationally, it’s no surprise to learn that people are increasingly concerned about being left behind by a constantly changing news-cycle. This year we have seen a massive increase in media consumption, with news engagement rising 22 points.

However, people remain concerned about the rise of ‘fake news’ and the ways in which false stories can be used as a weapon. Because of this, and despite the drastic increase in news engagement, our data shows that journalists are now the least trusted source of information by the public, with only a third (32%) trusting them, closely preceded by government officials (36%).

Interestingly, the status of most trusted information source is jointly held by academic experts and company technical experts, with 63% of Britons citing each as trusted. This comes at the same time CEO’s are dipping in trust, with less than 40% of people in the UK citing them as a credible source of information.

So, at a time when the public is suspicious of fake news give extra thought to who conveys information on your company’s behalf. This should be shaped by the type of story you are sharing – i.e. responding to an issue – and the channel through which it is being deployed. But know that more often than not, genuine subject matter experts, will be seen – internally and externally – as reliable sources of information.

  • In business, the customer no longer comes first

Whilst a good reputation amongst customers may help to drive business in the short term, it will only get you so far. The majority of respondents (60%) confirmed that whilst ‘a good reputation may get them to buy a product, unless they come to trust the company behind it, they will soon stop buying it’.

This is particularly pertinent given one of this year’s key findings. Three-quarters of people (76%) believe that how a business treats its employees is a key indicator of trustworthiness. As debate continues around workforce issues like equal pay, the living wage and diversity and inclusion, the reputational impact of internal issues is becoming increasingly external. The ability of business to positively engage employees, and in turn, how these employees perceive their business leadership, has a direct impact on trust from consumers and the wider public.

Employers remain one of the most trusted institutions across almost all demographics. 84% of the informed public and 69% of the mass public trust in their employer. Even amongst the group of respondents who feel the ‘system is failing them’, seven in ten (69%) still trust their employers.

The imperative here for businesses is clear: they should view investment in employee trust as an investment in their bottom line. As communicators, this means leveraging employees as advocates for your business, and having them tell your story to drive higher levels of trust among consumers and the wider public.

Find out more:

For more on the issue of trust you can watch Edelman UK CEO Ed Williams in conversation with former Prime Minister Tony Blair here, as well as find the UK and global reports.

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