How credible and trusted are different spokespersons?
Peers now as credible as experts
How credible are different sources of news and information in people’s opinions? When putting PR programs together, it pays to understand how well different sources of information are respected and to focus on the most trusted for best results. You could even keep these results at hand as a reference when planning communication programs.
Most trusted spokespersons at a time when there is massive loss of trust within society
Annual research commissioned for the 17th Edelman Trust Barometer in 2017 (Edelman is the biggest PR firm in the world) asked respondents:
“Below is a list of people. In general, when forming an opinion of a company, if you heard information about a company from each person, how credible would the information be—extremely credible, very credible, somewhat credible, or not credible at all?”
The 33,000 respondents rated categories of spokesperson in the online global poll. The result for every category was down from 2016, as shown below:
- 60% A person like yourself (friends and work colleagues?) (-3%)
- 60% Academic or industry expert (-5%)
- 60% Company technical expert (-7%)
- 48% Employee (-4%)
- 46% Financial industry analyst (-7%)
- 43% NGO representative (-5%)
- 37% CEO (-12%)
- 35% Board of directors (-10%)
- 29% Government official or regulator (-6%)
The global results show a massive and widespread loss of trust within society. The worst result was for CEOs – a 12% drop in trust from the previous year.
What should companies do more?
Around 75% of respondents agreed that “a company can take specific actions that both increase profits and improve the economic and social conditions in the community where it operates.” This gives companies a license to engage more with the communities in which they operate.
The question, “How important is each of the following attributes to building your TRUST in a company?” brought the following top responses from the general population:
- 62% Treats employees well
- 59% Offers high-quality products/services
- 58% Listens to customers
- 56% Pays its fair share of taxes
- 56% Ethical business practices.
What would damage trust in businesses the most?
The top 5 actions the general population believe business can take that would most damage trust in a better future:
- Pay bribes to government officials to win contracts
- Pay executives hundreds of times more than workers
- Most profits to other countries to avoid taxes
- Overcharge for products that people need to live
- Reduce costs by lowering product quality.
These responses point to deep concerns about untrammeled capitalism.
Trust in traditional news media shows the steepest decline
Search engines continued to be trusted ahead of all other sources of general news and information, recording a 64% trust level on a scale of 1-10 in people’s judgment. Trust level results were:
- 64% Search engines
- 57% Traditional news media
- 51% Online-only media
- 43% Owned media (content – website, blog, email newsletter, etc)
- 41% Social media
- 43% Media overall as an institution (down 5 points from 2016)
In the 2017 Edelman research, people were asked to think about different types of information they may have read, saw or heard about a company. The person that consumers trusted the most in each trust factor or topic, out of company CEO, company employee, activist consumer, academic or media spokesperson, were:
- Treatment of employees/customers – company CEO (17%), senior executive (21%), employee (53%), activist consumer (28%), academic (16%), media spokesperson (9%).
- Financial earnings and operational performance – company CEO (20%), senior executive (22%), employee (38%), activist consumer (29%), academic (22%), media spokesperson (9%).
- Business practices/crisis handling – company CEO (21%), senior executive (23%), employee (37%), activist consumer (29%), academic (22%), media spokesperson (11%).
- Innovation efforts – company CEO (24%), senior executive (31%), employee (33%), activist consumer (25%), academic (21%), media spokesperson (11%).
- Views on industry issues – company CEO (26%), senior executive (26%), employee (32%), activist consumer (22%), academic (23%), media spokesperson (13%).
- Partnerships/programs to address societal issues – company CEO (21%), senior executive (23%), employee (30%), activist consumer (29%), academic (22%), media spokesperson (14%).
The lessons here are that ordinary people such as an average company employee are being trusted more and more as time goes by. In every factor, above, they were trusted more than the formal corporate spokespersons of CEO and media spokesperson.
Often the media will seek out an average employee for comment during a crisis. It is worthwhile to consider appointing a couple of supportive opinion leaders from the ranks of ordinary workers/staff so they can be used as informal commentators in these situations, making observations from the average worker’s point of view.
The other generally trusted person in the past was an academic expert knowledgeable about the topic or the industry, but it seems the general population don’t even trust these people now.