Thought Leaders Improve the Climate of Trust

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Christopher G. Fox

Edelman’s 2020 Trust Barometer offers the latest annual update to a gold standard for understanding shifts in the levels of trust placed in major global institutions: government, business, NGOs, and media. Once again, the research has major implications for corporate communications, content marketers, and thought leaders in the world of business. The opportunity to inspire and grow trust is there if we only dare to act on it.

First, it is imperative to get out there and communicate with integrity to all audiences. A massive majority of people – 87% – want businesses to operate in the interests of stakeholders, agreeing with the notion that stakeholders, not shareholders, are most important to long-term company success. Stakeholders include communities, customers, and employees. Therefore there must be an intentional strategy for communicating to those audiences.

Second, CEOs must take the lead in communicating. Simply put, CEOs who are not blogging, publishing, and speaking regularly on important business and societal trends are failing the trust of all stakeholders. Another massive majority are calling for CEOs to communicate – 92% of employees state that it is important for their employer’s CEO to speak out on issues from automation to ethics to diversity to climate. Playing it safe no longer makes sense. Instead, let’s give CEOs the tools and resources to do this with impact.

Third, honesty matters. I have said this in other blog posts, and the data support it. Businesses face a trust gap. In Edelman’s research, 38% of respondents agreed that business is honest, and 38% of respondents did not. Corporate communications departments absolutely must meet their potential and help people communicate better, with integrity and purpose.

Fourth, the research gives further evidence why Communications functions should shift to enabling communication to take place, facilitating and fostering it, cultivating communicators. Company technical experts inspire more trust than any other source. Over two-thirds (68%) of respondents see them as very or extremely credible – compared to 47% for CEOs and 36% for journalists. The more companies can tap into the hidden asset of their subject-matter experts, the more they can accumulate trust.

Finally, to all my colleagues in the financial services industry: we still have a lot of work to do. Financial services has climbed from its nadir of 44% trust to 56% – still placing us in dead last. We need to double down with investments in all of the tactics mentioned above to grow trust.

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