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Edelman’s Trust Barometer Report 2013: Our Global Leadership Problem.

Edelman’s Trust Barometer Report 2013: Our Global Leadership Problem. image edelman marquee 01

If you aren’t familiar with Edelman’s Trust Barometer project, you should be. I can’t think of any other organization out there that has been able to peel back the layers of trust in the business world as effectively. (If you know of other work I should be looking at, please leave a link in the comments.) Anyway, I want to share some of their findings here because understanding them will help everyone build and grow better companies. This isn’t just a PR topic. It affects everything: Brand management, communications, operations, retail, customer service… everything.

First, the checklist. Below is a graphic that shows 16-trust building attributes every organization needs to be aware of (and gauge). It looks like this year, Edelman added categories (what they call trust performance clusters): Engagement, Integrity, Products & Services, Purpose, and Operations. I can’t poke a hole into this. It’s solid.

Edelman’s Trust Barometer Report 2013: Our Global Leadership Problem. image edelman performance clusters

Since I am as much a fan of best practices, brand strategy and change management as I am a fan of data, insights and infographics, you can imagine how stuff like this makes me feel like a kid in a candy store.

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Here’s another piece of the Trust Barometer project: shifts in trust around the world year over year (YoY). To be clear, the graph does not illustrate consumer trust in the countries listed, but rather how consumers in each of these countries tend to trust companies, media, government institutions and NGOs. (If you think of it as a sort of cynicism graph, the US, the UK, Germany and France are a lot less cynical about all four sectors today than they were a year ago. We’re not out of the woods yet, but it’s a good sign.)

Edelman’s Trust Barometer Report 2013: Our Global Leadership Problem. image edelman slide6

Edelman’s Trust Barometer report for 2013 is summarized really well in this video. (If the link below doesn’t play, click here.) It’s less than 3 minutes long and packed with a ton of really fascinating info, so keep your finger near the pause button. And no, I wasn’t paid by Edelman to push their report or say nice things about them. I ran into this yesterday on the Facebook. I was impressed by it and thought it was well worth sharing with you guys.

What’s particularly fascinating to me:

1) Tech companies seem to inspire the most trust and banking/financial institutions the least amount of trust.

2) Leadership and corporate culture are cited as the primary causes of corporate wrongdoing. (And rightly so.)

3) Globally, CEOs have less than a 50% approval rating. Only 18% of people expect business leaders to tell the truth, and 13% of political leaders to tell the truth. That is execrable.

What it means: a) we have a global leadership problem, and b) people are no longer blind to it. If that shouldn’t trigger a wake-up call, I don’t know what will.

Interestingly, people tend to still trust institutions far more than the leadership of said institutions. In the US, for instance, 50% of people trust business institutions, but only 15% trust their leadership. That’s a 35 point gap. When it comes to government, those numbers fall to 38% and 10% respectively, for a gap of 28 points.

Our trust in people – particularly in those who should be our leaders – is eroding. Fast. This is a major problem and it needs to be addressed. And no, cool Superbowl ads and cosmetic rebrandings won’t fix this. It’s a deeper problem and it is going to take serious, grown-up, deliberate work to fix it.

The only thing I wasn’t super impressed with was the “diamond of influence” and the media clover leaf thingamajigs at the end of the video. It isn’t that they are wrong (they aren’t) as much as they attempt to fix a leadership problem by addressing an operational problem. To use a medical analogy, it’s a little like trying to cure someone’s brain tumor by enrolling them in a social graces class. The solution just doesn’t match the problem.

Here’s a thought: Before you can address changes in operational models, you have to address the gaps in leadership that are the root causes of said operational problems. For instance, if you focus first on working with the organization’s leadership on baking the 16 attributes of trust into their vision for the company and then operationalizing them, maybe you have something that might work. Then and only then do you bring in the diamond and the clover leaf – to address the how of your why and what.

Always match the right solutions to the right problem. Otherwise, your business solution runs the risk of being little more than the corporate version of a cargo cult: a lot of mimicking and parroting, but absolutely no hope of generating real results. If you have a leadership problem, address that. Don’t beat around the bush. Don’t skirt the issue. Address it and fix it. Start with an audit of your organization, using the 16 trust attributes as potential areas of improvement.

Food for thought. Discuss.

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