The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer: Who Holds the Power of Influence Now?

If you're just joining us, our most recent series of posts have discussed the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer and the global impact its results may have on businesses, governments and the media. In our most recent post, we addressed the ever-growing skepticism customers harbor toward American business leaders. However, while a solid percentage of the global population expresses some form of hesitancy and distrust, the situation is far from hopeless.

In fact, despite the current attitudes expressed by citizens around the globe, Edelman's results show large portions of our society remain optimistic about business and its leaders:

“The survey shows that despite the general population’s skepticism, business has the best chance of bridging the trust gap while still fulfilling its mandate to create value. The general population sees business as the institution best able to keep pace with rapid change, ranking it well above government and higher than nongovernmental organizations.”

As business owners or team leaders, if we're to reverse the negative trends that have created this trust disparity, we must begin by understanding the way “trust” has changed in recent years.

A Common Trust

As we've discussed, one of the biggest reasons for this shift in trust is the takeover of social media as a source of news and information. Newspapers and periodical subscriptions are on a steady annual decline while Twitter and Facebook get many millions of views each day. The reverberation of this shift extends far beyond the monetary consequences: As one of the Trust Barometer slides points out, citizens indicated a stark difference in the amount of trust expressed toward “a person like themselves” versus the trust they have in CEOs or business leaders. While only 49 percent indicated a distinct trust in business leaders, almost 65 percent reported they would place their trust in an everyman—a person like you or me. 

Let's examine some of the ways the trustworthiness of the “everyman” archetype can be leveraged to increase and build trust in our businesses.

Empower Your Employees 

Occasionally, I see businesses throwing millions of dollars on marketing strategies aimed at increasing brand engagement and accelerating customer brand advocacy, all the while ignoring the most powerful weapon at their disposal: their employees. 

If the trust disparity arose partly as a result of leaders walling themselves off behind the closed doors of their corner offices, this is our chance to open those doors and allow employees and customers in. Begin by…

Defining Your Brand

Although many of us have spent countless hours strategically building our brand, it's vital we take the time to gather our employees' perspectives and input as well. How do they see our brand? What values or ideals do they associate with our company? A 2013 Gallup survey of more than 3,000 employees revealed only 41 percent of those polled felt they knew what their company's brand was or how it was different from the competition. A candid conversation with your employees can clear up any ambiguous aspects of your brand, vision or mission. Doing so will ensure all parties are on the same page for any type of advocacy.

Provide Power to Powerful People

If your business is successful, it's likely because you've surrounded yourself with passionate, driven people who identify with your mission and want to see it succeed. Now's the time to provide them with the power to speak on your behalf. Quarterly letters from CEOs and biannual profit-loss reports aren't interesting to the average customer. If we truly want to build trust in our business, we must let our employees begin sharing their personal success stories on whatever medium they prefer. These stories, snaps, posts or tweets portray a much more transparent and personable image across all aspects of our business. Employees speaking and sharing openly on all mediums allow others to get a good look at the actual people behind our company. Because the “mass” population tends to identify more with their peers, this allows our businesses to build an even deeper connection with consumers.

Keep an Eye on the Conversation

The power of peer-review sites such as Yelp, Google Reviews and UrbanSpoon is growing. According to Yelp's analysis, more than 95 million people have written a local review since its inception, and over 200,000 calls are generated to businesses per day as a result of a Yelp review or search. This isn't an area where we should clash with customers, but a medium where we should look to learn, interact and identify with those with strong opinions. There's no easier way to show willingness to engage than by responding directly to our customers kindness or, in some cases, their complaints. Reach out! Interact! Converse! Embrace your success and, more important, admit when you could do better—and attempt to make amends.

Bringing Everyone Aboard

Regaining the trust of customers globally will not be an easy task. It will take a sustained, exerted effort from business owners and team leaders alike. However, if we're going to begin tackling this issue, it must be a team effort. Reassurances and updates from CEOs and heads of business will no longer suffice. A large percentage of our customers are looking to their peers to find out who's trustworthy and who isn't. The key is to show them just how human your business is. 

Al Eidson is the owner of Eidson & Partners, a business and marketing strategy consultancy, and a founder of SparkLabKC, an early-stage startup accelerator program in Kansas City. He's an expert in taking products to market and has launched more than 220 new products and ventures through his career. He's also proud of killing off a great many problematic products before they hit the market. His vision involves meaningful and lasting products through innovation. 

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