Social Media Loses In Public’s Shifting Trust; Employers, Traditional Media Wins

People’s trust in society’s institutions has shifted dramatically in the past year as entities they formerly trusted to help them navigate the world have let them down; the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer shows that, in turn, they’re giving that trust to a much more local source: their employer. The study reveals that “my employer” has emerged as the most trusted institution over the past year. Globally, 75 percent of respondents indicated their employer is significantly more trusted than non-governmental organizations (57 percent), business (56 percent), government (48 percent) and media (47 percent).

“The last decade has seen a loss of faith in traditional authority figures and institutions,” says Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman. “More recently, people have lost confidence in the social platforms that fostered peer-to-peer trust. These forces have led people to shift their trust to the relationships within their control, most notably their employers.”

This shift to localized trust is unfolding against the backdrop of a return to the largest-ever trust gap (16 points) between the informed public (65 percent)—defined by Edelman as ages 25-64, college-educated, in the top 25 percent of household income per age group in each market, and reporting significant media consumption and engagement in business news and public policy—and mass population (49 percent). The separation is driven by record-high spikes in trust among the informed public in developed markets, while mass population trust remains relatively flat. The trust gap is severe in developed nations—UK, 24 points; Canada, 20 points; France, 18 points; U.S., 13 points—and has now moved into the developing world—India, 17 points, and China, 12 points.

The trust disparity is also partly explained by gender. The gender trust gap is in the double digits in several developed markets, such as Germany (12 points) and the U.S. (11 points), mostly driven by women’s lower trust in business.

“Divergent levels of confidence between the mass population and informed public about the future signal a continued underlying rot in the structure of society,” says Stephen Kehoe, global chair, reputation. “While not everyone is taking to the streets, the data shows why protests like the Gilet Jaunes in France, the women’s marches in India and walkouts by employees at some major tech companies could become more mainstream."

This fear has sparked a desire for change and factual information prompting an unprecedented increase in media consumption and the sharing of news and information, up 22 points to 72 percent. Trust in traditional media (65 percent) and search (65 percent) are now at their highest historical levels ever, driven by large increases in developed markets. Conversely, trust in social media (43 percent) remained low, especially in several developed regions that show enormous trust gaps between traditional and social media—U.S./Canada, 31-point gap and Europe, 26-point gap.

The survey also found that CEOs are expected to lead the fight for change. More than three-quarters (76 percent) say they want CEOs to take the lead on change instead of waiting for the government to impose it. And 73 percent believe a company can take actions that both increase profits and improve economic and social conditions in the community where it operates. Employees expect prospective employers to actively join them in advocating for social issues (67 percent). Companies that do are rewarded with greater commitment (83 percent), advocacy (78 percent) and loyalty (74 percent) from their employees.

“This is the emergence of the new contract between employee and employer, which we call Trust at Work,” says Edelman. “This contract is predicated on companies taking four specific actions: Lead on Change, establish an audacious goal that attracts socially-minded employees and make it a core business objective; Empower Employees, keep employees directly informed on the issues of the day and give them a voice on your channels; Start Locally, make a positive impact in the communities in which you operate; and CEO Leadership, CEOs must speak up directly on issues of the day. Smart companies will heed the call to build trust from the inside out with employees as the focal point.”

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