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25 September 2017

In Tech, We Trust: Avoiding Alienation and Distrust

Written by: Simon Chan, Account Director at Edelman

Technology, Trust

The shock cancellation of Uber’s licence by Transport for London is a timely reminder of the importance for high growth technology companies to engage with their stakeholders and earn trust.

From start-up to scale-up, high growth technology companies are all on a journey. However, their mission to grow and evolve is matched by the growing issues they will face. Considerations such as regulators, policy engagement and investor relations that may not have been on the radar at the beginning, suddenly become a boardroom priority.

This is being accelerated by a broader trend we are seeing where the technology industry is at a crossroads. The promise and delivery of some great innovations is benefiting our society, economy, and our planet. However, some are beginning to feel left behind by the pace of change.

Our 2017 Trust Barometer, which polled 33,000 people globally, found that while the technology sector is trusted in nearly all countries (69 per cent in the UK), the pace of innovation is causing concern. In fact, 51 per cent of respondents said technological innovation is happening too quickly and felt it was leading to changes not good for their lives.

“Disruptive” is a buzz-word in business right now with innovative companies seeking to displace established market leading firms, products, and alliances. But while business can change the cards they play, they can’t change the rules of the game altogether. An insular mindset of not communicating or engaging with the broader impact of your technology will only alienate a brand.

In the UK, as in most markets, policymakers can have a significant impact on a business’ ability to operate if they don’t think they are playing fair. And interestingly for Uber, this was a challenge our colleague, Sat Dayal, foresaw in his 2015 blog post.

“Stakeholder” might be an overused word, but literally it means groups and individuals who have a stake in your business and are integral to its success. Not only does this include employees and shareholders, but this also includes regulators, policymakers and industry partners. It pays to work with your stakeholders and to ensure you have an advocate base who can support you, but this takes time.

Failing to act soon enough to respond to and counter criticism of your business can open doors to other powerful constituencies to organise and lobby against you unchallenged. The predicament Uber now finds itself in is a lesson in the importance of engaging stakeholders from the outset, transparently and clearly communicating your purpose and intentions. It is also essential to maintain a constructive dialogue. When you know that your fate lies in someone else’s hands it pays to think carefully about the tone you strike in those conversations.

Engage constructively, listen, and understand the concerns that are being raised. A balanced, collaborative dialogue can only help protect and grow your business.

Uber most certainly won’t be the last brand which will face these challenges. Our Trust Barometer revealed that while sharing economy companies such as Uber and Airbnb, gained a neutral level of trust from respondents, transformational, high impact technologies such as blockchain and self-driving cars are yet to earn trust.

There is a real opportunity for business leaders in technology to be on the front foot and close this gap. To earn trust, it is important for leaders to communicate the purpose of their technology, their intentions and more importantly, how it will help contribute towards our society, economy, and planet.

By Simon Chan, Associate Director, Technology and Emily Poole, Associate Director, Public Affiars

Editorial credit: Graphical_Bank / Shutterstock.com

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