This article was originally published in 2015 and has been completely updated in 2020.
“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.
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.
Every year, Edelman PR, the world’s biggest PR firm, conducts an international 20-minute 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.”
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:
Products and services
(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.
This article was updated in 2020.
Anastasiia Polokhlyvets contributed this article. Today, text-only posts in a blog don’t work. At all. As a result, this is
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