Can CEOs fill the trust vacuum?

It is safe to say that our confidence in political elites has plummeted to an all-time low, so who should consumers look up to?

In a world of 'post-truth' politics, can CEOs fill the trust gap? asks Sarah Scholefield
In a world of 'post-truth' politics, can CEOs fill the trust gap? asks Sarah Scholefield
After the surprise of Brexit, or watching in shocked awe as the upcoming US election unfolds, who do we, as consumers, turn to when there is little to no faith in political figures? 

Increasingly, we are looking to business leaders and brands to take the lead.

Thirty-nine percent of the savviest CEOs now have an active social media presence and with it have recognised that they have a golden opportunity. 

It’s the sort of gap in the market they dream about, offering business leaders a chance to step up to the podium with a receptive audience already at hand.

You may have doubts that a CEO can garner greater following than a political leader, but research now shows that 82 per cent of consumers are more likely to trust a company or brand whose CEO engages on social media.

When times are uncertain, we all crave stability, and just as heritage brands are often the beneficiaries of uncertain times, we also seek comfort in business leaders that show us the way, inspire and reassure.

Think about it, when a CEO of a brand reinforces a positive stance on relevant world issues (social, political or market climate), we are more inclined to trust in their guidance – even more so if they are generally in line with public opinion or those of a targeted audience.

Of course, C-level communication also has to set the right tone. 

Stiff and unemotional communication no longer appeals to consumers. Nor does it sate our demand for increased corporate transparency. 

More than ever, we are looking to corporate leaders that connect with us through relatable material and feeling. 

We gravitate towards storytelling, and therefore seek out leaders who have an emotional narrative that is accessible and sociable in nature.

I think we need to make a broader point than just ‘doing social media’. Let’s use Paul Polman, Unilever CEO, as an example.  

Polman is a global business leader who is actually making a difference.  

Certainly, CEOs can learn from Polman that, in a world that has developed such a lack of trust in leaders, a responsible and truthful leader who can recognise and engineer their business (and its communication) with empathy, can contribute to regaining public confidence.

CEOs who have stepped up their personal communications brand are reaping instant rewards and creating an advantage for the future of the brands they represent.

Sarah Scholefield is managing director of Grayling UK 

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