What the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer Reveals About the Role of Media, Tech and Business

Edelman recently released its annual Trust Barometer, a global survey that tracks the level of trust individuals have in institutions — business, government, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and media — and compares year-over-year trends. So, what do this year’s findings show about the role of media, tech and business in today’s world? When Axios’ Media Trends Reporter Sara Fischer interviewed Richard Edelman about it in San Francisco, BOCAteers were all in.

For the first time since the survey began in 2001, the mass population is profoundly unhappy and distrustful of its government, NGO and media institutions. In an unusual twist, respondents across all economic spectrums have a comparable level of distrust. Conversely, respondents’ trust in their employers has inched up; 64 percent indicate CEOs should take the lead on effecting change rather than waiting for governments, while 72 percent trust their employers to “do what is right.”

Distrust in institutions manifests as political polarization and instability. As we see in the U.S., there is tension between coastal areas that are benefiting from strong growth in the technology sector and other states that feel left behind. Americans on the whole have faced years of wage stagnation, particularly in lower income brackets. And the steady declines in the publishing sector have resulted in a lack of accurate information about local governments and communities.

Here are some of the findings that affect BOCA’s world:

  • Results show 50 percent of Americans have disengaged from mainstream media; 25 percent say it’s because mainstream media is too disturbing, while the remainder fundamentally disagrees with how the media covers the world.
  • In the U.S., there’s a marginal rise in trust of traditional media and an 11-point decline in trust in search/social.
  • Trust in business is at its highest point ever, and with this trust comes great responsibility. Respondents now expect CEOs to build trusted businesses that treat employees well and lead the country in resolving big social issues like pay parity, health care and safe, harassment-free working conditions.
  • The business Americans reported trusting the most is the one at which they currently work. They expect the CEO to be a respectable authority figure who has earned credibility and has appropriate academic credentials. These types of figures help employees feel safer.
  • Given the level of trust in CEOs, Edelman concludes there is a tremendous opportunity for influencing people through various channels of employee communications. These channels can also be used to spread news and views on social issues for which the company is leading the national conversation.
  • Silicon Valley respondents generally trust tech companies but also want to see them regulated; 73 percent see tech as part of corporate America, and 67 percent believe they are under-regulated. Rather than taking a proactive role in embracing regulation, 67 percent of respondents believe the tech industry is instead reacting to government policy.
  • In addition, 72 percent of Silicon Valley respondents feel tech companies should be doing more to eradicate sexual harassment, while 74 percent feel women are treated unfairly at tech companies.
  • Interestingly, Silicon Valley respondents report trusting female leaders more than male ones; 67 percent are more likely to believe women in positions of power, while only 33 percent are likely to believe men in positions of power.

A presentation on the survey findings was followed by Fischer’s interview of Edelman. He offered an interesting observation on why there is such a split in trust in true journalism and “news” shared on social platforms. He feels the findings support that liberal respondents trust traditional journalism and believe their friends read news from the same outlets. Conservatives now more than ever question the traditional media and its agenda. Edelman thinks companies must accommodate both by talking to traditional media outlets and also alternative channels. In addition, companies should provide employees with tools to make good decisions, which can come in the form of traditional news articles or other sources like academic studies and even tips for identifying fake news. In the past, corporate leaders didn’t treat employees as the most important stakeholders to address; now they should be the first.

Given the findings and his observations, the audience wondered if perhaps Edelman has a liberal bias like the perception of the mass media which it serves. Not so, he says. He’s a registered Republican. But that doesn’t stop him from wanting his three daughters to never tweet #metoo. Nor does it dissuade him from feeling that tech industry needs to take responsibility for the 3 million truck drivers and 3.5 million cashiers that will face unemployment due to automation; he feels these businesses should be doing BIG things like adopting the city of Detroit, funding free community college tuition or providing equity to 1099 contractors serving the sharing economy.

BOCA and its clients fit squarely in the for-profit tech sector. Findings from this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer indicate that these businesses have an unprecedented amount of consumer trust and power to create change that benefits society. Employee communications represent a largely untapped channel for influencing the general public and combatting big challenges from the spread of fake news to safe and equal working conditions for all.