Do We Really Trust Anyone Anymore?

16 Jul Do We Really Trust Anyone Anymore?

I have a secret. I like the Edelman Trust Barometer. Not as much as I love Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends report, but I do look forward to it every year. It’s interesting how much things change in a short period of time when it comes to trust. Apparently, no one trusts government or media anymore – which means, surprise, every company should now market to audiences directly because company experts are more trusted than most other categories.

But, beyond the obvious plug for more PR services, I think the Barometer is a thing of genius.  Edelman put themselves out there early as being the gauge of public trust in the digital age, and that was a savvy business move that I have to admire. They also put in place the resources to make it real.

Now, on to some of the more fascinating results from this year’s survey:

Trust in Media

There was a flash poll of SXSW attendees that I found particularly interesting, especially in my world of B2B tech. More than 60 percent of the SXSW community said they trust the media – a  number that is just over 40 percent globally. This to me is one of the saddest statements from the survey. As someone who makes their living working with media, I can tell you that in my experience, they are largely passionate, talented individuals who have drunk the Kool-Aid on being the keepers of the flame on the 1st Amendment. Sure, I’ve met a few bad apples over the years, but just a few, versus the thousands of journalists who show me otherwise. I know broadcast news has shifted to focus heavily on their ratings, and I’d like to see that come back to a more balanced presentation of information, but media are a critical part of democracy and freedom, and they are not the evildoers they are purported to be.

The SXSW community also reported being more trusting of traditional media (84 percent trust vs. 62 percent globally) and less trusting of platforms like search engines (44 percent trusted vs. 61 percent globally) and social media (20 percent trusted vs. 40 percent globally). That really caught my attention. How does a group comprised of those who identify with and lead the digital age have less trust in digital platforms than they do in traditional media?

Trust in Technology

Based on data from 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer Flash Poll of SXSW Attendees

What really floored me in the survey results was that the SXSW community has low trust in technology?!? How is this possible? This is where innovative startups go to be seen and get funding. These are the influencers they count on to “get” their vision and propel them to be the next Google of the XX market. But, overwhelmingly, this audience trusts the coolest, hottest technology significantly less than the rest of the world? (see graphic to right) I have a hard time believing this one.

Trust in Business

The SXSW community has a very low trust in business (31 percent) while the global audience trusts business more than any other category (61 percent). I don’t know what to make of this as a PR person. I presume that means businesses should not try to engage directly with influencers like those at SXSW, but should instead market directly to the majority of their audience which are not the SXSW crowd. For influencer marketing (at least in the B2B tech space where I play), a 1:1 personal approach from a human being has always been the best practice, so this doesn’t strike me as a huge shift.  

CEO trust is particularly high among global audiences along with subject matter experts, while trust in “people like yourself” is lower. For the B2B market, this is helpful, since bloggers in this space, which is what I assume is meant by “people like yourself” tend to be journalists rather than users anyway.

Also interesting is that for businesses, trust appears to be heavily weighted toward companies that take real steps to invest in jobs, promote equal opportunity, safeguard privacy, drive economic prosperity and provide for future generations. Many B2B tech companies have initiatives to address some of these issues, but they always seem wary of doing more than is needed to show people they care. Consumers of all types seem to be putting much more stock in how a company treats its employees and its community, meaning all companies must do more than just talk about these issues. This will be a shift for many in the B2B space, especially young companies. Taking up this challenge may result in an interesting combination of forces between PR and HR to create and promote real change in their respective organizations.

Future of Trust in B2B and Beyond

At the end of the day, a lot of these broad surveys speak much more to the consumer market and average citizens, versus a B2B tech buyer. Even the SXSW crowd represents a small fraction of tech elite and wannabes versus the average worker using technology or an IT person with a problem to solve.

While I find studies like these fascinating from a sociological standpoint, they don’t typically affect my marketing strategies much. B2B buyers across the board seem to want honest insight into how a technology platform will address a specific business issue. They want that information with as little jargon as possible and in a way they can sell internally. That is our challenge in gaining trust. I’ll leave the public trust crisis to others to solve, though as a citizen, I will remain concerned and involved.

Robin Bectel
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