People don't trust businesses like they used to - here's how to win them back

Maintaining public confidence is harder than ever in the age of hyper-transparency.

By Martyn Rosney Director, Reputation Inc

IN TODAY’S COMPLEX business environment, earning and maintaining the trust of your stakeholders has never been more difficult.

While reputation is the sum of your past actions and the experiences you have provided, trust is the metric of what is expected of you in future interactions.

Edelman’s ‘Trust Barometer’ is now in its 18th year. It surveys more than 33,000 respondents across 28 countries.

This year’s findings for Ireland revealed small increases in trust across the institutions of government, media and NGOs but a decrease in trust for business. So what can Irish businesses do to build trust?

Do the right thing

Businesses cannot afford to talk the talk, unless they are truly walking the walk. There is no escaping the fact that in an age of hyper-transparency if you’re not doing the right thing, the public will find out.

Our research shows that the majority of the general public expect CEOs to lead on change rather than wait for regulators to impose it.

If businesses in Ireland want to earn the trust of the public, they need to identify an area of social responsibility where they have the authority and credentials to be an effective voice, and then share their story in a way that is authentic and powerful.

Tell your story in the right places

In Ireland, although we have seen an explosion in the amount of content creators and ‘influencers’, journalists remain the most significant group when people were asked who they thought of when they thought of media.

This year, trust in journalism jumped five points to 53% while trust in platforms dropped eight points to 33%.

Rising trust in traditional media and low trust in search and social media means companies need to develop stories that will come to life not just in the pages of the national newspaper but on their own website, on their customers’ social media feeds, in the industry trade publication their buyers read.

Working with the right journalists is one of the most powerful ways to tell your story. The trust that has been built between journalists and their audiences is a pillar of strength to build from.

In your dealings with journalists it is vital to be open, transparent and considerate to their deadlines and pressures. Information quality is essential for creating trust between business and the public.

When it comes to telling your story online and through your own social channels, if you want your company’s content to be shared by a public that is increasingly disengaged and distrustful it must be presented in a style that fits with the reason they share anything else online.

Your content must not only hit all the rules set by the algorithms of the social networks; it must also be visual, informative, entertaining, educational but above all it must provoke some type of emotional response.

Use the right people to tell your story

Our findings over the past few years have seen the voice of ‘a person like yourself’ being consistently growing in importance.

However, this year, trust in that category was the only one to register a drop. In comparison, the credibility of journalists, CEOs and academic experts are all up.

Expert voices are the most credible. With events that unfolded in 2017, it is no surprise that the survey found that people see technical or academic experts as more credible than that work colleague, friend or vox pop on the radio who has strong opinions that may not be grounded in the facts.

For companies this means that you should not just rely on your CEO as the voice of your organisation in the media. Technical experts, employees, industry analysts are all trusted spokespeople that can be encouraged to tell your story.

It is clear that the emphasis on managing and improving organisational trust will be a key issue in the boardroom for 2018 and beyond.

Taking a step back to assess how trusted you are by your stakeholders is the first step. The next step is formulating a considered strategy on how to communicate who you are and what you represent.

Martyn Rosney is a corporate communications professional at Edelman Ireland.

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