Who do peoPle tRust?

Edelman’s Steve Rubel at Hofstra

Trust in institutions is apparently at an all-time low. While this probably doesn’t surprise you, it has important implications for how we should be communicating with our target audiences.

“Who do people trust?” is a question PR agency giant Edelman looks to answer each year. Edelman’s Chief Content Strategist Steve Rubel returned to Hofstra University last week to talk to educators, business leaders and graduate students about the firm’s Trust Barometer, an annual survey begun 17 years ago to measure which institutions and leaders are trusted most—and least—by the public.

Rubel, a Hofstra graduate, studies worldwide social media trends, watching and reporting on how people use information and technology. He showed us that trust in four major institutions—business, government, non-government or nonprofit organizations, and media—all declined broadly this year, a phenomenon not recorded since Edelman began tracking trust. “Further underscoring the trust crisis is the lack of credibility of leadership,” the report noted. “Only 37 percent of the general population now say CEOs are credible, and 29 percent say the same about government officials. Media declined the most and is distrusted in 82 percent of the 28 countries surveyed. As an institution, business is on the decline, too. “In 13 of 28 countries, business is distrusted,” the survey found.

Edelman looked at who’s representing these institutions and found that trust in employees ranked far above trust in CEOs, media spokespeople and senior executives. “Peers are the most credible source of information,” said Rubel. “Employees are telling stories that are strongly believable.” He then provided some sage advice for PR educators and future professionals:

  • Think about how to turn employees into storytellers;
  • Teach less corporate-style communication and more about applying journalism techniques in a brand environment;
  • Analytics are critical in today’s marketplace;
  • Talk with people, not at them…Be with the people, not for them.

Rubel added that brands can’t just rely on pitching stories to the media anymore. “Through social media,” he explained, “everyone has to tell their own stories.” He gave us all a lot to consider as we continue along this journey we call public relations. Your thoughts?

36 thoughts on “Who do peoPle tRust?

  1. Bianca Kroening

    Trust is a brand asset that is very easily sacrificed in favor of something more profitable like speed, ease, and attractiveness. As a result, people are less willing to believe news that they aren’t eyewitnesses of, and don’t trust brands and new products until they see them work. PR Professionals are going to have to work harder to build and maintain trust of their clients with their target audiences, and demand more influential seats at the table when big, possibly dishonest, decisions are made.

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  2. Kassara McElroy

    Inability to trust the source of information is a growing problem in 2017. Unfortunately, with the inability to trust the media comes the inability to trust pr practitioners. I think the media is under major transormation during the upcoming years because it’s viewed as a a disorganized/questionable information entity right now. Everyone graduating this year or in the upcoming years has to remember that we should always be trustworthy and communicate that to the public, in order to keep the media a sacred place.

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  3. sydney seligman

    Lack of credibility, in my opinion, is in large part due to the lack of professionals verifying their information and sources before posting/discussing something. When people just put out news that is not necessarily accurate, people feel misled. In today’s political arena, it is extremely difficult to trust anyone. After an election where so many news stations openly supported Hillary, it is quite clear that they are partisan and diametrically opposed to Trump, a complete media-hater. There are several instances that come up each day where companies and institutions make moves that lessen their credibility. In order to recover from that, it is important to make sure employees and clients are happy with you and can speak to your positive output.

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  4. Gabby Sully

    Social media has completely changed Public Relations. Not only do practitioners need to be aware of how their client presents themselves and actions in real life, they also have to be aware on multiple social media platforms. With all these platforms comes analytics which are able to show and tell trends and what posts are most effective in reaching the audience.

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  5. Awilda Pena Luna

    I am not surprised by the numbers, we tend to trust more in people we can relate to. This is where public relations is important. Public relations specialist work towards communicating a message to the masses, by making things easier to understand. Therefore, speaking to people on the same level makes them feel more comfortable and willing to listen.

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  6. Tyler Weatherly

    I think people trust people who they can relate to, which is why we have public relations. when we speak to people on the same level, as a peer, and with genuine feeling, they are more likely to listen because you’re more likely to be telling the truth. I believe the best PR is done by people who believe in what they’re doing – it really shows.

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  7. Jennifer Im

    I recently read an article from The Atlantic explaining four possible reasons for the decline in trust of mainstream media. One, the media. They have actually been covering stories unfairly and have given their audiences reason not to trust them. Two, the elections. In their coverage of Hillary and Trump, media organizations have revealed themselves to be more bipartisan and biased than ever. Three, competition. “News” shows like The Daily Show and the Bill O’Reilly show are more popular than ever, meaning people would much rather trust a news source that confirms their biases, leaving them to dislike honest news that triggers their psychological dissonance. The last reason is because of modernity. Apparently, with modernity, people just tend to distrust all major organizations including the government, public schools, banks, and the news. Despite this overall trend in declining trust, it’s impressive that trust in news from employees has stayed positive.

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  8. Dianne

    While it is a place where many of us exaggerate, social media also keeps us candid. We spend most of our time scrolling and running miles with our thumbs. I would agree that it is our mission to create content as PR professionals that will attract attention and keep readers and viewers on the same levels. There is a major difference between reporting and discussing. It’s highly important to keep consumers comfortable with the way in which they are receiving their information, while also allowing them to trust in the organization.

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  9. Sabrina O'Neil

    Scrolling down my Facebook feed, I find at least one fake news source per day. So it really isn’t surprising that there is a lack of trust in this country as a whole. I feel like people always have to be on their toes making sure everything that they read, see, or hear is true. There is just so much news out there especially regarding the controversial presidency and recent business blunders to know what to believe. It is hard to say what could be a fix for this but a first step is definitely for companies to be as transparent as possible with their audience. Putting all information out there, bad or good, people are more likely to deem it as a reputable source.

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  10. Whitney Shepherd

    I think for a while now the publics trust in CEO’s and government officials has been dropping, but now there is data to prove it. I think for a lot of these companies the leadership has been in their positions for a long time and sometimes as employees change leadership does not. However, going back to recognizing an America that is more politically charged and active, consumers and employees are starting to realize and call out that leadership is not necessarily changing with the way of the world and adapting to new and different audiences.

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  11. Haley Moffatt

    I think trust is such a fundamental thing when it comes to business; there seems to be a general distrust of our current administration and it probably isn’t going away anytime soon. I think the best way to promote trustworthiness within a company is to remain as transparent as possible. PR professionals should already know transparency is the best policy, but it’s imperative now more than ever to remain transparent in these untrusting times.

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  12. elliotrubin

    I have been aware of the increased distrust in big institutions, like government and business, recently, however, I am not quite sure why this is happening now. I think it could be the fact that people don’t trust the people who either lead, or represent on of these institutions, so therefore they give less credence to that entity as a whole. As an example, government, which has pretty consistently been a source of distrust among the American people, appears to have a growing number of people lose faith in that institution in recent months due to the controversial nature of press secretary Sean Spicer. Spicer’s penchant for not being completely forthright with the public, and withholding information seems to have, at the very least, gave people reasons to be skeptical of the government, and to not necessarily take everything they say at face value.

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  13. Emily Walsh

    With companies being in the limelight because of recent PR catastrophes, it doesn’t surprise me that CEOs are losing trust with their audiences. CEOs need to be a source of guiding light for their employees and audiences so they can lead them with honesty and integrity. This is why PR is of the utmost importance. We help CEOs craft their messages when a crisis arises so they can keep the trust with their audiences. In good times and in bad, CEOs need to keep trust in order to keep their company running smoothly.

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  14. Elana Delafraz

    As I sit through many job interviews and apply myself to studying for my final exams, I really have learned that the power of the story is important. For example, one of the jobs that I am applying to is for a social media coordinator role, they have taught me that earning trust in your audience is powerful and doing so you must convey a good and honest story. I think sometimes, especially in todays society, all journalist want to do is to publish an attention grabbing story that will put the most money in their wallet. It is up to the PR practitioner to develop the story in the most honest form.

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  15. anwarahmad

    This outcomes in this post were not surprising, but really made me think about PR during the past year. It is becoming increasingly harder to listen to the media professionals and the CEO’s. Why should we believe people that are just trying to cover their cooperations and reputations. Listening to the employees and people that are not media trained seems like the next best thing. It really makes me sad though because PR practitioners are brought in to create a positive image for a company, not cover anything up. We are trained to create messages that will get through to everyone. Relying on employees for information rather than the higher ups seems okay, but one should really think about the company as a whole, rather than the story of one unhappy employee.

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  16. Daniela gagliano

    I agree that we have to talk with people, not at them. A successful corporation should be having conversations with their employees, rather than one-sided communication to create a balance in the workplace. The idea of “story telling” is genius because in this day and age, everyone wants to feel a part of something and everyone wants a purpose. Loosening the grips of corporate ties could potentially be a great business move. When employees who aren’t necessarily at the top of the company share the same sense of passion and drive as those above them, it can make the company more efficient. Everyone wants to feel important and no one wants to be talked down to. Understanding the needs of the company from top to bottom is vital, so that no one is coming in and dreading their 9-5 desk job while they hunt for the next better opportunity.

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  17. Kristina Scotto

    I’m not at all surprised that people are beginning to lose trust in the four major institutions mentioned. Higher-ups and CEOs put business before their clients’/consumers’ feelings. However, employees do not have the same intentions as CEOs do, leading them to be more trustworthy. The tip about talking with people are not at them would be beneficial. If a client feels as though they’re being talked down to, they will automatically get a bad taste in their mouth. However, if they are spoken to as an equal or as an acquaintance, they will trust the higher-up more, and gain respect for them.

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  18. Kristina Scotto

    I’m not at all surprised that people are beginning to lose trust in the four major institutions mentioned. Higher-ups and CEOs put business before their clients’/consumers’ feelings. However, employees do not have the same intentions as CEOs do, leading them to be more trustworthy. The tip about talking with people are not at them would be beneficial. If a client feels as though they’re being talked down to, they will automatically get a bad taste in their mouth. However, if they are spoken to as an equal or as an acquaintance, they will trust the higher-up more, and gain respect for them.

    Reply
  19. Emily Barnes

    “Talk with people, not at them…Be with the people, not for them,” is a fantastic way to approach communications with publics. People are people. My parents always tell me to think of trust as a bank–the more positive actions one does to gain trust, the more “funds” are added to the trust bank. On the opposite side, as one starts making poor decisions, he or she is depleting their trust bank. I’m not surprised at all that there has been a decline in trust for media, government, and other institutions. CEOs and executives have to realize that no matter how high up they are, they must remain grounded and be as transparent with the public as possible in order to supply their trust bank.

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  20. Marli Delaney

    The rise in distrust is not surprising as fake news and scandalous dishonesty often involves people and companies with big names and high authority. It is an intelligent strategy to analyze trust in order to be aware of the ways that key messages can be genuinely and affectively communicated to Target audiences.

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  21. sarafoxprtools

    I think it is an interesting and useful finding that employees rank far above in trust than CEOs, spokespeople and senior executives. In 2017 especially, people can see through “heartfelt” speeches and efforts from CEOs and other higher-ups. Similar to how bloggers are more trusted than advertisers, people are interested genuine stories from people that are relatable. His advice for future professionals to talk with people and not at them is key.

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  22. Christina Shackett

    It is not hard to believe that these four major institutions have begun to lose the public’s trust in them. Along with bias reports in the news, most are becoming cynical and unwilling to believe that what they are told is not the result of trying to sway a person to think something. Likewise, I think that general employees should always be trusted more – they typically do more of the “dirty” work of a company and have less to loose in the stakes of what happens to a business than anyone else.

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  23. brittanyliscoe

    This post further enforces the idea that happy employees are the best PR a company can have. When employees are dissatisfied with their place of work they will more often be the people talking the most negatively about the company, contributing to the already growing mistrust the general public holds. When a dissatisfied employee tells me information about a company I will almost always believe them over a dissatisfied customer. While its unfortunate that trust in corporations is at an all time low, I think its beneficial that executives at least have the PR of their employees to fall back on when it comes to fixing the problem. The moment when companies realize how influential their employees are in terms of shaping opinions, they can begin dissolving the mistrust.

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  24. #foodienycpublicrelations

    I understand why people do not trust those four major institutions although I believe some are too sensitive. I like the concept “talk with people..not at them” because no one likes to feel like they are not being heard or appreciated. Edelman’s advice should be used by more institutions and professionals. I know it would personally help me trust in them more.

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  25. Marli Delaney

    The rise in distrust is not surprising as fake news and scandalous dishonesty often involves people and companies with big names and high authority. It is an intelligent strategy to analyze trust in order to be aware of the ways that key messages can be genuinely and affectively communicated to Target audiences.

    Reply
  26. Samantha Storms

    In our current political climate, it’s no surprise that the trust in media is declining. It’s a really scary thing– if we can’t trust our politicians or even our watchdogs, what’s left for us? It’s interesting to think about the ways in which we cope with finding other sources of news in a time where credibility is crucial but difficult to establish.

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  27. Marielle McCartin

    I do understand why people would not trust the four main institutions that you stated because business is held over telling the truth in many situations. Even though I believe that is ethically wrong. I also do believe that employees are more trustworthy than bosses who are in charge as well. The general public should put more trust in these agencies, because if so, they would receive more accurate information without feeling like the information does not hold meaning.
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  28. Benjamin Martin

    Honestly, this does not really surprise me all that much. I have no reason to believe in large business tycoons, nor government officials. More often than not these voices, politicians especially, break many promises they make and negatively impact their publics or their employees. Obviously, this is a large generalization and there are companies I trust, but I understand and agree on the whole with these statistics. I think the tips he gives are very helpful and while they are simple, they show an important transition in how businesses appeal to their publics.

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  29. Madeline Myslow

    I can completely understand why people would be more apt to trust employees than to trust CEOs or other higher-ups. I personally trust opinion leaders who have no stake in the company much more than I trust the company itself sometimes. For this reason, I think it is extremely important for companies to recognize where their customers are getting their information from and strengthen the influence of those who lead these customers to the product. As an example, I never purchase any sort of beauty product until I have seen it featured and reviewed in one of the various blogs I follow. The authors of the blog are trustworthy and are never paid to review a product, so I can count on their expertise. This has made me purchase a myriad of products that I never would have even considered before. This is why it is vital for companies to analyze the best possible way to reach certain audiences, much like Rubel does.

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  30. alyssascott97

    I understand why people do not trust those four major institutions although I believe some are too sensitive and cynical. I like the concept “talk with people..not at them” because no one likes to feel like they are not being heard. Edelman’s advice should be used by more institutions. I know it would personally help me trust in them more.

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  31. jdietes04

    It doesn’t surprise me that the trust of those four major institutions are on the decline. In today’s landscape it is extremely difficult to find anyone that is wiling to tell the truth and then when you think they have a scandal follows shortly after to prove they weren’t. I do agree that today, people what want to relate. I believe that telling the story of the employee or the average person rather than the elite resonates more more with audiences. I also liked Rubel’s advice to talk with people rather than at them. People want to be communicated with; they want to be part of the conversation and if you can invite them in, I believe that would increase trustworthiness.

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  32. Neil A. Carousso

    I think the key bullet point is not talking at people. No one likes to be spoken down to. The most effective communicators can relate to others and tie their messages to the audience’s struggles and experiences.

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  33. Nicole Lamanna

    Trust is an important thing to keep and maintain. Without trust, companies have little us. In regards to trust, I especially liked the idea “Talk with people, not at them…Be with the people, not for them.” Sometimes, people will feel belittled or like they’re not being heard when they’re being talked at. It’s important that people feel like they’re ideas are being recognized. In addition, I’m not shocked that trust has decreased overtime. I feel as though people are way more skeptical and cynical than they used to be which contributes to this overall decrease in trust.

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  34. Courtney Grieco

    I like his idea to talk with people not at them. It makes sense that people are more likely to trust their peers over their superiors. When talking with someone rather than at someone, you put yourself on their level and they will view you as a peer, resulting in a more casual conversation with higher levels of trust.

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  35. Michael Mastropierro

    The general public not trusting government, media, and other agencies is not good for PR professionals. What they’re saying is also going to seem untrustworthy and that is not what they want, obviously. It’s up to PR people and these agencies to fix the problem and make the public trust again.

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  36. Briana Cunningham

    I am not at all surprised that trust has declined. It seems that it is revealed that business trumps honesty more and more often. The public is becoming cynical and less willing to believe what they hear. But I think it is a great point that general employees are considered more trustworthy than CEOs and other executives. If the employees of a company or organization are willing to tell their stories, it is a much more effective way to get a message out to the public. In a way, regular people want to hear the opinions of regular people.
    This is similar to the tactic used by many college admissions offices. Families that come to visit will, of course, want to ask questions and get information from the counselors. But when it comes down to the qualitative information (“What is the food like?” “How is student life?” “What do people do for fun on the weekends?”) it is the Pride Guides that they turn to. They get to hear real stories from real students.
    I think it is great that trust is being tracked. As a future PR professional, this is the type of information we need to be aware of. And it is certainly important to keep that data in the back of our minds when coming up with new communication plans. My hope is that this incoming generation of communicators sees this decline as a wakeup call and can help start the turnaround.

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