What can businesses learn from Edelman Trust Barometer?

Insights on how the world sees and trusts the four major institutions: government, media, NGOs, and business.

Recently, the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer was launched.

As business consultants, we are following the results of this study with great interest, as it gives an insight into how the world sees and trusts some of the most important institutions: government, media, NGOs and businesses. This study gives us a global perspective of the role of business in the global community as well as what businesses can take from these insights.

There’s no one left to trust but business

2020 was not an easy year for most businesses. We witnessed many of the local enterprises being shut down, workers who were furloughed or even laid-off, and businesses were struggling to adapt their activity based on the safety measures imposed.  The efforts, that many businesses are still implementing to recover, seem to have earned the trust of communities who feel that businesses are doing the right thing, acting quickly, and effectively, in uncertain situations. 

  • Business became the only trusted institution in 2021, and were also the only institution seen as being both competent and ethical. 

The pandemic shifted many of the trends that this study has shown over the years. With the global uncertainty still present in 2021, 3 out of 4 institutions lost trust from their communities i.e. NGOs, Government and the Media.

The only institution people trusted was business – mostly because it had to think and quickly implement safety measures and contingency strategies to continue its activity. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all businesses excelled at overcoming the new challenges. It was the only institution that had no choice but to focus on surviving and therefore thinking of quick and effective strategies to keep going, where possible, ensuring that production continues, and stocks and services are delivered with reasonable delays.

  • CEOs are not only business leaders, but they must also engage in global issues

Caught-up in often confused and mixed messages sent by Governments and the disinformation spread by and across all media, people listened to and believed in CEOs much more than ever before. Global business leaders often raised their voices with clearer actions to follow. Post-pandemic, people expect CEOs to be more involved in addressing societal issues such as the impact of COVID-19, job automation, climate change, and local community issues. 

They also believe that business leaders shouldn’t wait for Government to create a framework for certain changes to happen, they should themselves be the ultimate drivers of change and lead people by example. 

  • Local employers are most trusted

For most of the people, local employers were the most tangible and close leader figures that they could relate to during the crisis. People felt that their concerns had a better chance of being heard by their local employer.

  • Employer media is most believable

Disinformation is one of the most destructive major challenges that came with this pandemic.  Media institutions have often published articles without accurately verifying the source or adopting clickbait strategies. Governments and public institutions sometimes issued contradictory information that confused the general population even more.

People seemed to trust their employer’s media more than the content published by other institutions. The expectation was that businesses would disseminate verified information, that would also comply with the latest regulations. At the same time, many companies spread a message of hope and positivity, to support their employees to cope better, and present tangible solutions to overcome the crisis.

What can businesses learn from Edelman Trust Barometer?

For a lot of people, businesses represented an anchor of stability during the pandemic. Even if uncertainty dominated the business world as well, the solutions and strategies, that companies came up with, gave people the necessary assurance to continue doing their job. 

The huge amount of trust given to business and its leaders came from the incapacity of the other three institutions to do what people expected them to do. In other words, business was the lesser of the evils during the pandemic, at least from a community perspective.  

For businesses, the lesson is that, during a crisis, people have more expectations from their local employer than their government. Firstly, a great part of the population’s income source comes from business. Secondly, even if the authority that businesses have cannot be compared with the authority expected of public institutions, employees feel that these are the closest deciding actors who they can speak with, and who can at least listen to their concerns. 

Given that people granted trust in business, partly because the other three institutions failed more at addressing the pandemic challenges, then the real winners are the companies who managed to implement effective communication crisis strategies and actions that would decrease the impact of the pandemic on their employees. Those who succeeded in doing so, have not only gained temporary trust but will also benefit from an engaged workforce in the future. 

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