Edelman: Public trust 'evaporated' in 2014

The public's trust in businesses, NGOs, media, and government dropped last year, according to the latest edition of Edelman's Trust Barometer.

NEW YORK: The public’s trust in businesses, NGOs, media, and government decreased slightly in 2014 compared with the previous year, according to the 2015 edition of Edelman’s Trust Barometer.

Trust in NGOs declined 3% globally to 63%. Meanwhile, trust in media dropped 2% to 51%, and trust in business fell 2% to 57%, compared with last year’s findings.

Globally, trust in government increased 3% to 48%. However, that only accounted for an uptick in India, Indonesia, and Russia.

Ben Boyd, president of Edelman’s practices, sectors, and offerings, said that if those three locations were taken out of the equation, there would have been a decline in the public’s trust in government.

"This is the first time since we started this study 15 years ago that we have seen such a prevailing sentiment of skepticism across all four institutions," Boyd said. "We have historically seen a seesaw -- when business is up, government is down and vice versa."

Boyd puts the public’s "evaporation of trust" down to the list of "unpredictable and unimaginable" events that happened in 2014, including the spread of Ebola in West Africa; the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, plus two subsequent air disasters; the arrests of top Chinese government officials; the foreign exchange rate rigging by six global banks; and numerous data breaches, such as Sony Pictures.

"The list goes on, and folks are feeling out of control," said Boyd. "They are waking up and going, ‘Oh, yet again another thing.’"

The overall largest drops in trust occurred in Canada (15 points to 47%), Germany (12 points to 45%), Australia (11 points to 48%), and Singapore (10 points to 61%). This was highlighted by a drop in the technology industry, which saw a trust decline in 70% of the countries surveyed.

Still, similar to last year, consumers globally said they trust the technology sector more than any other industry; the total percentage of respondents who trust the tech sector decreased from 79% to 78% last year.

Trust in consumer electronics is second highest, at 75%.

Media is the least trusted sector, at 51%. The report also found that, for the first time, search engines are now the most trusted media source (64%) over traditional media (62%). Further, 72% of Millennials favor search engines over other media sources.

"The takeaway from that particular finding is as a company is thinking about their content or message, the findability of that is paramount and the pervasiveness of that across multiple channels is also critical," Boyd said.

Banks are the second least trusted, rising 2% from last year’s findings to 53%.

Overall, trust increased in 16 countries and decreased in 11 countries, compared with last year. The United Arab Emirates, India, and Indonesia are the top three countries on this year’s trust index, while the three bottom countries are Turkey, Ireland, and Japan.

"We found a strong correlation between a country’s trust level and its willingness to accept innovation in this year’s report," said Boyd.

Another key finding from the survey was that employees are the most trusted sources when discussing engagement (47%), integrity (34%), and operations (31%). Media spokespeople were the least trusted sources on engagement, products, purpose, and operations.

While an academic or expert remains the most trusted spokesperson (70%), and a company technical expert is the second-most trusted (67%), a "person like yourself" came in third (63%).

CEOs and government officials or regulators are the least trusted, coming in at 43% and 38%, respectively.

The study recommended that to raise trust levels, businesses should aim to "solve" world problems by developing ideas and products that yield societal and personal benefits.

In addition, a business should actively minimize risk by addressing stakeholder and customer concerns, treating staffers well, acting with purpose and integrity, and adhering to a code of ethical standards.

"Behavior is fundamental in terms of the scrutiny individuals are bringing to businesses today, relative to trust," Boyd said.

Finally, businesses should have a clear mandate that is not about engaging to sell, but to create mutually beneficial relationships, the report recommended.

More than 27,000 general population respondents in 27 countries, ages 25 to 64, participated in the report. Respondents had college educations.

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