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20 January 2015

In Tech We Trust: The New Inventors' Dilemma
Edelman Trust Barometer 2015

Written by: Satyen Dayal, Senior Director at Edelman

Technology, Trust

Today Edelman launched the 15th annual Trust Barometer and the results show an interesting start for the technology sector:

  • Trust in technology sector declines
  • People frustrated by ‘too much’ innovation
  • Cloud computing less trusted than tech sector as a whole
  • Tech brands must demonstrate greater transparency and third party validation of products

In his 1995 book The Digital Economy: Promise and Peril in the Age of Networked Intelligence, tech-visionary Don Tapscott marked the birth of ‘a new economy, a new politics and a new society’. In addition to an IT-led renaissance, Tapscott warned of a looming dark side where we will witness ‘severe social stratification, an unprecedented invasion of privacy, structural unemployment and massive social dislocation and conflict’.

Today, stories of both a technology-fuelled utopia and dystopia appear almost daily. Whether it’s the potential of robots with Artificial Intelligence to make our lives easier or the latest mass-scale hacking of people’s private information, this climate of ‘Promise and Peril’ has amongst many things made life interesting for companies operating in this space – not to mention us communications professionals.

In my opinion, over the past 15 years the Edelman Trust Barometer has also reflected much of this digital transformation, from the shift in trust from Authority to Peers to the significance of Young Influencers, Fall of Government and Crisis of Leadership. For example, the proliferation of IT such as social networks and smartphones has directly influenced the first two trends. The use of these technologies to quickly expose the wrongdoing of government and business practices has arguably impacted the second two.

Counter-intuitively, during this period we have witnessed trust in the technology sector continually rise and top the tables for five consecutive years. There are no doubt a raft of reasons why this number one position has been held. When it comes to the one thing that will save us from the big and small issues facing our world such as climate change and poverty, in tech we trust. However, it seems prescient that nearly two decades since Tapscott’s predictions, today’s launch of the 2015 Trust Barometer witnesses a decline in trust of the technology sector.

Granted, tech remains at the top of the table for a sixth year, and the decline in trust, a relatively minor two percentage points. Nevertheless, this year’s Trust Barometer coincidently also includes a deeper analysis of technology and innovation. This analysis points to long-term implications for trust in the technology sector. Specifically, there are a number of findings that led to the overall insight: Trust is Essential for Innovation. Here I feel there is much that comms professionals, and indeed business leaders in technology can learn from.

Firstly, just over half (51%) of respondents believe that the pace of innovation today is too fast. Interpret this how you will but for me, it lends credibility to the term ‘Disruption Paralysis’ coined by futurologist Tamar Kasriel. This is the idea that when people are constantly fed a diet of change and ‘disruption’ e.g. the very latest, ‘must have’ digital mapping solution, they will eventually respond with the exact opposite – inaction. Being seen as innovative for the sake of innovation might not be the right message to drive.

Worrying still, the driver for innovation is not perceived (as some tech entrepreneurs would preach) to improve lives and make the world a better place. The belief is that innovation is led mainly by technology (i.e. tech for tech’s sake), business targets and personal ambition or greed.

This ‘tech for tech’s sake’ notion might explain why despite our high levels of trust in technology, people have less trust in cloud computing, a technology model that I firmly believe will transform our lives in ways yet to be imagined. It perhaps also explains why on the whole, people feel there is not enough regulation in the tech sector.

Globally, there are some more positive trends that we know many tech brands are playing close attention to. For example, developing markets are more open to innovation and accepting of technologies such as cloud computing and mobile payments than their more developed counterparts. In fact, the financial services industry, which has experienced a continuing decline in trust, is seen as having a safe pair of hands when it comes to the new world of electronic and mobile payments.

When it comes to trusted innovation, there is much that can be done from a communications perspective in terms of building and defending your tech brand. Greater transparency and third party validation are, as ever, essential. For instance, making test results of new technologies available for public review is the main ask (80%), and partnering with academic institutions the next most important approach (75%).

As minor as it may seem, in many ways this recent blip in the tech trust score should be viewed as an opportunity to better understand how to get the positive vision of a Digital Economy back on track. In turn we can avert the perils and, as Tapscott puts it, see Information Technology ‘promise fulfilled’.

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