In meetings with corporate communications executives, I've noticed a recurring question: how can they communicate with their employees in an authentic voice, creating an environment of trust? How can they get past the “corporate speak” that is so readily dismissed? In response, I've offered seven observations for internal communicators rooted in the findings of this year's Edelman Trust Barometer:
- Less than half of the study's respondents trust a company to “do what is right.” In today's skeptical environment, credibility in an employer is not a certainty. Communications should incorporate relevant data that validates the company's point of view.
- Trust toward business clearly differs by country and region; one-size doesn't fit all. “All company” communications need to evolve into more regionalized engagement, including more local examples that connect with employees' real world view.
- Candor and transparency drive trust and reputation. More than ever, employees are looking for straight talk. Tell it like it is. Give them a forum to engage in the conversation and recommend (and own) solutions.
- Companies ranking among the most trusted are also socially involved. In your communications, give employees the opportunity to participate in a larger mission, something bigger than the company and relevant to them.
- The CEO is credible again, but consider adding a chorus of experts. While the CEO's credibility as an information source is rising, incorporating third-party data from experts and analysts into communications can raise the trust level even more.
- Frequency matters, but so does diversity in channels. We've learned that people need to hear something 3-5 times before considering it credible, but it's also most effective when it's heard from multiple sources. Keep the same themes, but mix your media in coordinated CEO blogs, newsletters, intranets, and town hall speeches.
- Media coverage remains a great source of borrowed credibility for internal communicators. Leverage positive coverage inside your company so employees see your messages resonating externally and being validated by respected media.
You're seeking to create a full circle of trust, outside your firm as well as inside. Your most credible stories – and most powerful advocates – are within your company's four walls.
Mark Shadle is EVP and managing director of corporate affairs at Zeno Group.