Trust in Biz Takes a Turn—for the Best

Each year, the annual Edelman Trust Barometer takes the pulse of informed publics’ confidence in public and private institutions worldwide. In January 2009, the research revealed the lowest trust levels in its 10-year history—likely a result of the global economy’s descent into a full-blown economic meltdown.

Given this sharp decline, the research team conducted a special midyear update to see what, if anything, has improved. The good news: Trust in U.S. business has stabilized, growing by a 12-point margin to reach 48% (the January 2009 Barometer clocked in at a record low of 36% who trust business to do “what is right”). U.S. government mirrored that growth, also increasing by 12 points to reach 42%.

In spite of this positive growth, 55% of respondents still believe that business hasn’t done enough to cooperate with government to solve the global economic crisis, and 52% think companies haven’t managed business operations well enough to ensure they will survive the economic crisis.

In terms of communications-specific results, the midyear Barometer did report that a combination of “hard and soft” measures will rebuild public trust, with “having transparent and honest business practices” and “communicating frequently and honestly” ranking among the most important actions a company could take (see graph).

Additionally, when asked how important the interests of various groups should be to a CEO’s decisions, respondents cited customers (70%) and employees (58%) first, suggesting that stakeholders—not shareholders—are the main consideration.

Communications executives, then, can draw the following conclusions from the midyear findings:

• Investor interests need to be balanced with customer and employee interests when a CEO makes a business decision; likewise, executives must consider the latter two groups when communicating information about that decision.

• Business and government must work collaboratively to tackle economic an societal challenges.

• Stakeholders are more inclined to trust companies that drive innovation by investing in research and development.

• Businesses that commit to finding solutions for global issues like global warming, energy costs and access to affordable healthcare are more trusted than those that don’t do enough to create solutions.