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Latest industry views and advice

January 24

What does it mean for businesses to be trusted?

Some would argue that trust is central to what makes a business successful: the beneficial consequence of building a sound reputation by keeping promises, behaving responsibly, being transparent when things go wrong and remedying those wrongs.

In its 24th year of producing the annual Trust Barometer, Edelman’s Trust Index – revealing the level of people’s trust in government, business, NGOs and the media – shows the UK as now “among the least trusting countries”.

That said, scores for ethical and competent organisations put business out in front; only slightly lower than NGOs in terms of ethics and 52 points ahead of government for competence. And business beats the bunch again when trusted to introduce innovations into society; safely, widely understood and both “beneficial” and “accessible”.

But it’s the scientists and companies’ technical experts (as shown in previous Edelman Trust Barometer reports) that remain way ahead of the pack in being trusted to tell the truth about new innovations and technologies:

That’s the good news – and businesses investing in innovation should see the value of harnessing their subject matter experts and technical specialists to help convey the message; with the caveat that some “translation” may be needed to turn that valuable expertise into something comprehensible to non-experts, not least if you want them to buy from you. That’s a challenge as – globally – 45% of people claim scientists “do not know how to communicate with people like me”.

Investing in content creation for your business’ communications channels (otherwise known as “owned media”) with the input of your experts is proving to be a good option in reaching and persuading an audience. The Trust Barometer’s 10-year trend comparison among different media sources shows owned media increasing its trust rating by four points; more than search engines (+3 points), traditional media (-1 point) and social media (-3 points).

Potentially problematic, as the research reveals, is the fact that just because people trust the work of a particular industry sector doesn’t automatically translate to them trusting an innovation. As the chart below shows, trust levels in green energy outstrip people’s general trust in the energy industry, while the gap is frankly a gulf between the typical level of trust in technology and, more specifically, artificial intelligence.

When the “jury’s out” among the audience, it’s beholden on the innovators to make their case, clearly and transparently and with empathy for the uncertainty that exists among the people they’re trying to introduce to the “shiny new thing”.

When innovation is seen as “poorly managed” – based on business’ ability or inability to introduce it responsibly, lack of government regulation or with science mixed up in politics and money – people will tend to reject the innovation. The quantity of people more willing to embrace green energy versus AI or gene-based medicine, as the report says, reflects this dilemma.

Which takes us back to scientists and technical experts: 77% and 74% of people respectively want each profession to have a “big role in managing the introduction of innovation”, ultimately leading to greater acceptance.

And, as the chart below shows, if they have a visible/audible voice via your company’s communications activity, it’s more likely to be found and consumed by people enquiring about your innovation activities. Equally, there should be a mechanism for dialogue and a willingness to engage with the curious, with 82% of people wanting business to “hear” their “concerns” and “let us ask questions”.

As the Trust Barometer concludes, “business is the most trusted to introduce innovation into society” but it remains essential to “explain the science”, “engage in dialogue” and “harness peer voices as advocates”.

And this process – to be successful – needs an active and open collaboration between scientists, technicians and professional communicators and for the “trust premium” in business and innovation to be cashed in.

Photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash


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