Edelman’s 2012 Trust Barometer Study Finds Trust in Government Decrease, Media on the Rise

Edelman recently released the results of its 12th annual Trust Barometer survey. Given everything that happened in 2011, it’s no surprise that trust is pretty much decreasing across the board. The 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer examines trust in four key institutions – government, business, media and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) – as well as communications channels and sources. In the U.S., trust in government remained stable, despite all the political discourse, but the majority of countries surveyed do not trust their government to do what is right. Governmental officials are also not the least credible spokespeople, with only 29 percent considering them credible.
Like every year, the Barometer looked at the number of times people need to hear something to believe it – 63 percent said between three and five times, which is a four-point jump from last year.

”Business is now better placed than government to lead the way out of the trust crisis,” said Richard Edelman, president and CEO of Edelman. “But the balance must change so that business is seen both as a force for good and an engine for profit.”

Media happened to be the only institution to see an increase in trust over the past year, with new media jumping 75 percent. This is how media is broken down:

  • Traditional media is still the most trusted source (+10% from 2011)
  • Online multiple sources, such as search engines and news/RSS feeds, trails traditional media, but the gap is small (+18%)
  • Social media, which consists of social networking sites, constant-sharing sites, blogs and microblogging sites, saw the biggest percentage increase (+75%)
  • Corporate media was the least-trusted media source, but still jumped +23% from 2011 (Corporate communications and corporate/product advertising)

Before moving forward into the Barometer’s implications in the field of PR, I wanted to mention one more interesting set of findings. As previously mentioned, government officials suffered the biggest decrease in trust of any spokespeople (and in Barometer history), falling 14 percent. Only 29 percent of those surveyed viewed them as credible. CEOs were not far behind, falling from fourth most-trusted to second least-trusted. As these two categories become less a source of information, people are once again turning to their peers. “A person like me” has re-emerged as one of the three most credible spokespeople, with its biggest increase in credibility since 2004. Regular employees also saw an increase in trust, rising 16 points. So it would seem the smart thing to do would be for CEOs to empower regular employees to drive the conversation among their peers about the company and its role in society.

Instead of making your head spin with more numbers and findings, let’s talk about how this affects public relations, and more importantly our clients. The study shows that traditional media is in fact not dead, but actually a trusted source of information. Traditional media – TV, newspapers, magazines, radio– and online search engines are the most trusted sources of information for people searching for general news and information, new product information, news on an environmental crises and company announcements. This makes total sense. For instance, when news of the Costa Concordia cruise ship accident first broke, I heard something about it on the radio in my car. I didn’t have time to listen to the whole story, so I went home and Googled it. Other people saw it on TV over their morning coffee, and still others read about it in the paper. Traditional media also did a solid job covering numerous crises in 2011, including the Bank of America debit card fee, the Netflix/Qwikster snafu and the Occupiers.

Even though I do like to read an actual newspaper every now and then, as a 24-year old, I’m much more likely to use digital media and social media to read about current affairs – and I trust those sources. I use my iPhone to look at Twitter, which has a story from CNN that I click through to read the story and watch a video. It’s no surprise to me that social networks witnessed the most dramatic percentage increase as trusted sources of information. We need to communicate this rise to our clients. The continuing rise of trust in SoMe and online sources is a signal that our clients need to think beyond print while communicating. Again, traditional media is NOT dying, so we should still focus efforts on placement there, but should not count untraditional media out. We need to provide a complete media cloverleaf and use all of these outlets together effectively in order to communicate effectively.

That being said, gaining new fans for your clients isn’t an equivalent to ultimate success and trust. Social media can be used to show transparency and to show CEOs are “people like me.” Social media is not traditional media, and cannot be thought of similarly to traditional media. Instead it needs to be thought of as bringing people together around a common interest – your client’s service/product.

Here are a few more takeaways we can learn from the Barometer:

  • We need to work on raising our clients’ search engine optimization (SEO) rank. It is so important to ensure content about your client can be easily found online.
  • We also need to get our CEOs and experts to talk. A great example is a Thought Leadership site. CEOs, presidents and key executives write weekly blogs here and that offers transparency. These are heads of companies writing their thoughts for the whole world to read. Hopefully if more CEOs write blogs, become active on SoMe sites, etc. their trust will increase for the 2013 study.
  • The very first PR maxim I learned was people usually aren’t interested in what you have to say… unless it concerns them. Listen to consumer needs and feedback and place consumers ahead of profits.


If you’d like to see the results and draw your own conclusions you can click here to see the presentation. Also, leave a comment below if any of the results are surprising to you or if you have other ideas to increase trust for clients.

by Sarah Funderburk

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