Please remember that the levels of trust described here relate to life before the coronavirus struck the world. Therefore, these Edelman survey findings don’t necessarily fully represent views of people who have been affected since the first half of 2020…something to follow up.
“Corporate reputation and trust are a company’s most important assets.” This view is widely held throughout the business world. Trust and reputation are inextricably entwined. They are the sum of various characteristics that stakeholders attribute to the organization. The two concepts are intangible, but even hard-headed managers and business analysts recognize their importance to the bottom line.
Strengthening trust in your organization should be one of the key goals of your management team. Trust by customers, employees, regulators, investors and other stakeholders control the future viability of the organization.
Communicators play a key role in building corporate trust and reputation
These two concepts depend on actions and perceptions. Communicators can’t control organizational actions, but we can engage in communication programs to strengthen stakeholder perceptions. And international surveys show that corporate communication needs to improve in order to strengthen trust.
Edelman Trust Barometer 2020 findings
Every year, Edelman PR, the world’s biggest PR firm, conducts an international online survey to measure trust in various important sectors. The Edelman Trust Barometer 2020 survey was conducted among 34,000 respondents in 28 countries. Edelman defines trust as “trust to do the right thing,” but they don’t actually define the term in their survey; it seems they allow people to “self-define” it and to know intuitively what it means. A useful definition, based on a widely used version is:
“Trust is willingness to accept vulnerability based upon positive expectations of the intentions or behavior of another.” In other words, if you trust someone, you are accepting that while it is possible they could act to disadvantage you, they are not likely to. This could apply in a broad sense to trust towards organizations.
The findings from the 2020 survey, conducted at the end of 2019, show quite different attitudes between the “informed public” and the “mass population” around the world. The “informed public” trusted three of the four institutions reviewed (NGOs, business, and media, while being neutral towards government. But the mass population distrusted government and media, while being neutral towards NGOs and business, as below.. This was a fundamental difference of trust globally. Respondents had been asked how much they trusted each of the four types of institutions “to do what is right.”
Elements of organizational trust
Edelman groups the components or attributes of trust into 5 clusters, which contain 16 attributes of trust building. In order of importance, these factors are:
- Listens to customer needs and feedback
- Treats employees well
- Places customers ahead of products
- Communicates frequently and honestly on the state of its business
- Has ethical business practices
- Takes responsible actions to address an issue or crisis
- Has transparent and open business practices
Products and services
- Offers high quality products or services
- Is an innovator of new products, services or ideas
- Works to protect and improve the environment
- Addresses society’s needs in its everyday business
- Creates programs that positively impact the local community
- Partners with NGOs, government and third parties to address societal needs
- Has highly regarded and widely admired top leadership
- Ranks on a global list of top companies
- Delivers consistent financial returns to investors.
(Just as an aside: it would probably be quite difficult for observers to be able answer survey questions about any company on all of these topics unless they were closely involved with it.)
Communication is central to all these areas. This survey feedback provides a great opportunity for communicators. You can use it to develop communication programs for your organization or client.
As Corporate Affairs Manager with a power utility, I conducted an annual reputation survey among customers. This provided valuable insights into how the organization was perceived and enabled me to emphasize some communication projects in weak areas. You could do the same with your organization. Incidentally, previous Edelman surveys have found that most people need to hear company information 3-5 times before believing it.
You can benchmark how your stakeholders, including customers, rank the above attributes’ importance and how they believe you’re performing on them. Map stakeholder priorities against your business goals and objectives to identify common ground. Advise management to respond to the gaps between your organizational performance and stakeholder expectations. This will improve your organization’s standing with stakeholders and will improve your standing with senior management.
Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. His wide-ranging career includes roles as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer and business manager. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.