“Declaring Information Bankruptcy”

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Key Takeaways from Edelman’s 2021 Trust Barometer

The 21st annual “Edelman Trust Barometer,” released earlier this month, makes strong claims about the erosion of trust in each category of societal institution (business, government, NGOs, and media).

Their topline conclusion for 2021: “declaring information bankruptcy.”

They find that businesses are seen as the only trusted institution, just barely over their threshold metric of 60%. See the full study for an explanation of the metrics.

In more detailed analysis of their 33,000 respondents in 28 countries, business is also the only institution seen as both ethical and competent, while media and government are seen as neither.

Edelman points to several factors behind this credibility crisis: the global pandemic, massive and fatal leadership failures, widespread bias caused by polarization and misinformation, and challenges with information hygiene.

The study adds that people generally expect business to step in to fill the void left by these overlapping crises, with CEOs taking the lead as agents of change. Moreover, when companies demonstrate efforts to protect and promote information quality, they gain further trust.

So how can we emerge from information bankruptcy?

Edelman calls for four core actions:

    • Businesses should embrace their expanded mandate, with CEOs leading on societal issues such as sustainability, systemic racism, and upskilling.
    • Societal leaders must show the courage to communicate directly and honestly while also empathizing with the emotional implications of so much turbulence.
    • All institutions must provide trustworthy content: truthful, unbiased, and reliable.
    • Business, government, NGOs, and media have to work together to address societal problems honestly and take action to solve them.

My shortest take on all of this: the four elements of recovering from bankruptcy echo the strongest and best principles that drive industry thought leadership. They set the bar high for honesty, integrity, and clarity. More on the thought leadership implications to follow shortly.

More broadly, the study suggests just how high the stakes have become: a bankrupt information economy impoverishes us all.