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?