Fixing a polling system that’s out of sync

Latest Voting Intention

Reading the various reports, narratives and commentaries this weekend about the results of the UK general election that took place on May 7, the overall perspective I’ve formed on all of that is how could the expert commentators, opinion-formers and outcome-predictors have got it all so wrong?

The election result produced a clear win for the Conservatives with a slender majority in the House of Commons (12 seats), and the virtual annihilation of the primary opposition political parties – the leaders of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Ukip have all quit – that confounded every single opinion poll in the months, weeks and days leading up to May 7, which had all predicted a hung Parliament as the best outcome anyone could expect.

So another coalition government looked a likely election outcome according to those polls – followed perhaps by another election in six months or so – and many column inches and pixels have been spent in offering what-if? scenarios of who might be able to form a government with whom, etc (the BBC’s interactive tool was especially good), much of it based on those opinion poll results.

About the only thing the pollsters did get right was the surging Scottish Nationalist Party which triumphed in Scotland in almost a clean sweep, winning 56 of 59 Scottish seats at Westminster.

Having been in America since May 3 with hardly a moment spare to look at the TV never mind online news, I had been shielded from any mainstream reporting and commentary back home in the run-up to election day last Thursday (our election was unquestionably not a big news item in the US mainstream media). What I did see, though, was plenty of comment and opinion on social media channels, notably Twitter, that presented a view of Labour being well ahead as the likely voting preference of a majority, and reinforced much of the mainstream feeling about a close-run election and a hung Parliament.

Socialist Media - Economist.com

And so I flew back to the UK on Thursday night US time arriving here on Friday morning UK time to the news that took me by surprise as much as it apparently did all those experts I mentioned – not a close-run thing at all but a pretty decisive Conservative victory, nothing like a hung Parliament, and a political landscape that no longer looked familiar with the downfall of the traditional political opposition.

With the nationalists rampant in Scotland and the Conservatives resurgent just about everywhere else outside the large urban centres in England, the former looks alarmingly like a one-party state with the latter arguably close to that territory. Indeed, it doesn’t look like a very United Kingdom at the moment.

But analysis on comment like that is for more knowledgeable subject-matter experts to ponder over.

What interests me mostly now is those opinion polls I mentioned earlier – how could they have got it so wrong?

You can choose from a great deal of opinion on that question, to which I add my two-pence-worth to suggest a combination of factors such as:

1. Reliance on an opinion-polling system that, largely, behaves the same as 50 years ago when few-to-many was the only communication model: the few controlled the news and methods of communication (the mainstream media companies); the many (the great British public) formed opinion based on what they read in the newspapers or heard on the radio (TV was still in its infancy) – their only reliable sources of news and information; and the pollsters formed their predictions based on what the public told them in answer to narrow questions where you read what the newspapers said to help you form opinions.

That’s totally not the picture today where the mainstream media is but one element in an immersive crowded information and communication landscape that enables anyone with an opinion and an internet connection to become a content-creator, news broadcaster and opinion-former.

Anyone with an opinion...

2. Lack of trust in, and engagement by, the political process and politicians themselves: let’s start with the Edelman Trust Barometer 2015 published in January that shows a continuing trend line for lack of trust in governments and politicians on a worldwide level, not only in the UK.

3. Public tiredness and disenchantment with politics in general and this election process in particular: so much partisan opinion and commentary – yes, I do call it propaganda – where it has been tough to filter signal from relentless noise and focus on what you think is credible and trustworthy to warrant your attention and your willingness to believe.

A case in point for me was the Leaders’ Debate on BBC’s Question Time programme on April 30. Debate? Hardly. Prepared sound-bite responses by each leader individually to questions from a carefully-controlled audience. The inauthenticity of it was breath-taking.

(Of course, I should point out that some analysts are saying that this TV event was instrumental in helping many voters decide who to vote for. If that’s true, then I’ll stick to my day job.)

4. The remoteness of much of it: so much stuff by people you don’t know, with hashtags on social media like #GE2015 that are tsunamis of opinions you don’t trust because much of it is so clearly partisan; and politicians who sound so patronising with their so-sincere-sounding and constant over-use of phrases like “hard-working families” and “working people” that you eventually tune it all out.

Some or all of this probably contributed to the huge number of “Don’t know” responses when people were asked by pollsters for their voting intentions – 25 percent of voters said they didn’t know who they’d vote for on the day, according to one report I saw.

That meant that the polling organizations, pundits and others were left to predict outcomes based on incomplete data from which to glean credible insights, along with that imperfect methodology for a contemporary society – are those the major factors that let it all be so wrong?

I read of one poll where the organizers predicted the actual election outcome with some clarity (and accuracy as it turned out) but who said they didn’t publish it for fear of being ridiculed: their poll was so totally different to all the others that were predicting a neck-and-neck close race, hung Parliament, etc.

And what was their methodology? Actually talking to voters: ringing them up on the phone and directly asking them relevant questions that they would want to answer.

YouGov’s Antony Wells summarized what he thought of the polling debacle:

[…] there is something genuinely wrong here. For several months before the election the polls were consistently showing Labour and Conservative roughly neck-and-neck. Individual polls exist that showed larger Conservative or Labour leads and some companies tended to show a small Labour lead or small Conservative lead, but no company consistently showed anything even approaching a seven point Conservative lead. The difference between the polls and the result was not just random sample error, something was wrong.

It’s worth taking a look at the 700+ comments to Well’s blog post.

So the current polling system used in this kind of significant national event has suffered a severe setback in how it is regarded from accuracy, trust and credibility perspectives. This has clearly rung a loud alarm bell as the British Polling Council, the trade body for the polling industry, has announced with some understatement that it’s setting up a public enquiry into what went wrong:

The final opinion polls before the election were clearly not as accurate as we would like, and the fact that all the pollsters underestimated the Conservative lead over Labour suggests that the methods that were used should be subject to careful, independent investigation.

The British Polling Council, supported by the Market Research Society, is therefore setting up an independent enquiry to look into the possible causes of this apparent bias, and to make recommendations for future polling.

The focus of the enquiry will be on polling methodology, according to the announcement.

Looking forward to learning what those recommendations are.

Sprinklr gets satisfaction

Get Satisfaction

It looks like the $46 million that Sprinklr raised from investors earlier this month is powering the enterprise social media firm’s expansion drive with its announcement last week that it has acquired Get Satisfaction, an online customer engagement community platform connecting companies with their customers to foster valuable relationships.

This is Sprinklr’s fifth acquisition in just over a year.

In its press release, Sprinklr said the addition of Get Satisfaction adds industry-leading, community-based customer support to its Experience Cloud and will enable enterprise brands to create, manage, and deliver relevant experiences across almost 25 social channels and brand websites.

Sprinklr said it will integrate Get Satisfaction into its Experience Cloud, the new platform announced in tandem with the $46 million investment-raising – what I described as an “omnichannel offering” – that gives enterprise companies a complete, integrated, and collaborative set of social capabilities for managing social media, brand websites, content, paid advertising, and listening.

Sprinklr CEO Ragy Thomas noted in an email:

The addition of Get Satisfaction to the Sprinklr Experience Cloud enables our clients to deliver world class community-based customer support, while leveraging the same  practices and processes they use for social customer care with Sprinklr today.

When all is said and done, our clients can create, manage, and deliver experiences that customers will love across 20+ social networks and brands’ websites.

One aspect of this deal that strikes me as especially significant is what it provides to Sprinklr in terms of access to and control of customer data and metrics for social media monitoring and analysis.

Access to data from a social network is typically via an API controlled by the network. If it’s shut down, or access otherwise is no longer allowed, the data flow stops which could be damaging to a business that relies on it for its service. A current case in point is Datasift and Twitter (and see the discussion in Robert Scoble’s Facebook post).

As TechCrunch reported:

[…] This is where Get Satisfaction becomes an interesting acquisition for Sprinklr. What it will give the company is the ability to collect data from customers, about businesses and brands, on its own platform, which it can then use to power its wider analytics services.

“We have to honor third party terms and conditions, and we do,” [Carlos Dominguez, Sprinklr’s president] said, but the data that Sprinklr will have greater control over will give it much more flexibility in how that data is used and also presented, he added. “You can provide a richer experience to people. This tech has benefits for the brand and their customers. It enhances the experience.”

(And remember, Get Satisfaction has been around since 2007, giving it eight years of data collected already that could be used for analytics.)

Sprinklr didn’t disclose the terms of its acquisition of Get Satisfaction nor the value of the deal. Sprinklr says Get Satisfaction’s technology will be integrated into the Sprinklr platform “in the coming months.”

Sprinklr raises $46m to build out an omnichannel offering: Experience Cloud

Empowered Customers

“Omnichannel” is a word to get used to as I expect we’ll hear this buzzword more and more as the technical marketing term to describe something relatively simple: the seamless customer experience. More on that in a minute.

It’s a word used in much of the media reporting on two announcements from enterprise social media firm Sprinklr yesterday, the first being that it had raised $46 million in new investment funding to value the company at $1.17 billion.

As Fortune magazine notes in its report, it’s a significant valuation increase in a short amount of time as Sprinklr’s last round of investor funding in 2014 valued the company at $520 million.

It’s Sprinklr’s second announcement yesterday that caught my attention most – the launch of the Experience Cloud, what Sprinklr describes as “a complete, integrated, and collaborative technology infrastructure that connects all of a brand’s social touch points.” It’s what they raised the $46 million for – to launch the Experience Cloud.

You’ll probably need a bit more than that to fully understand what Sprinklr is introducing, so here’s a 73-second video from Sprinklr explaining the Experience Cloud.

Let’s go back to the word “omnichannel.”

If we are in a world that’s about experiences, as many say we are – and as many of our own experiences as customers illustrate we are – then understanding the landscape and the behaviours of those in or on it become ever more important, whether you’re a marketer or a customer.

As good a definition of omnichannel as any I’ve seen comes from Omer Minkara, Research Director leading Aberdeen Group’s Contact Center and Customer Experience Management research:

Omni-channel: While companies using this approach also use multiple channels to engage their customers they distinguish themselves through two additional factors: consistency and focus on devices involved within client interactions. These businesses are diligent to ensure that their customers receive the same experience and message through different channels and devices involved within their interactions with the firm. For example, a company that provides customers with the ability to engage it through a mobile app, social media portal and website would be focused to ensure that the look and feel as well as the messages they receive across each touch-point are seamless.

It’s a bit wordy, but I’d say it describes what Sprinklr’s new offering is about. The above-all keyword is “seamless” as one differentiator from “multi-channel.”

Add to that this piece from Stan Phelps in Forbes magazine:

The Experience Cloud promises a unified view of the customer. It allows brand to manage a multitude of touchpoints. The key question is speed. The problem for most organizations is that response times differ whether its social, phone, chat, e-mail, or snail mail. Sprinklr’s offering allows all of these channels to managed from one central hub. It allows brands to take a channel agnostic view with the ability to deploy resources and a workflow for each interaction. The biggest benefit is that response time can be greatly improved.

And in a marketing email coinciding with yesterday’s announcements, Sprinklr Founder and CEO Ragy Thomas says:

We believe every business must focus on delivering relevant experiences at every social touchpoint.

If you agree, then Experience Cloud may be for you.

Worth a look.

Check out Sprinklr’s infographic:

Disconnected Experiences and Connected Customers [Infographic]

Apple Watch: How desirable and disruptive will it be?

Samsung Gear 2 Neo

For the past six months, I’ve been wearing a smartwatch, the Samsung Gear 2 Neo you see pictured here.

As I have a number of Samsung mobile devices, this smartwatch is ideal for me as it’s geared, so to speak, to work with a wide range of Samsung smartphones including all the ones I have. Currently it’s paired with my Galaxy S4.

The Gear 2 Neo does everything I expect a device like this to do as I mentioned in my initial review of its features and functionality last November. Things like:

  • Shows me the current time.
  • Gives me content on things I’m interested in, such as meeting reminders, updates from social networks (I’ve set it to show me updates from Twitter, Facebook, Google+ at the moment), instant message texts, WhatsApp messages, emails from various email accounts. Note that social network updates, etc, are the actual messages not just notifications of them.
  • Incoming phone calls which I can answer on the Gear 2 Neo if I wish (a surreal experience when at the supermarket checkout), and notification  of missed calls.
  • Contacts list and a dialler to make outgoing phone calls from the watch via Bluetooth connection to my phone.

It also offers health-related apps – pedometer, heart rate measurement, how many hours I sleep – plus others like a voice-recording app for notes, S Voice (an “Ok Google”-like app to ask questions), a music player for music I can store on the watch or stream from the phone (or from the net via the phone), stopwatch, weather reports, and more.

Plus there are myriad ways you can customize the device, from its look and feel to adding features and functions with apps via the Gear Manager app on your phone.

The bulleted list above describes the features and functions I currently value most. So health-related apps aren’t of much interest to me as they are pretty rudimentary: I’m sure that devices like Fitbit or Jawbone that focus specifically on such features are much better as that’s precisely what they do.

I’m also experimenting with apps on the phone that deliver breaking news topics to the watch that alert me of that breaking news, and which I can read on the watch. My current app for that is News Republic; it’s not bad.

And yet.

I want more than all this in a smartwatch. I want to see the word smart mean a great deal more.

I don’t care what shape the device is – square, round, whatever – as long as it looks good (a highly-subjective way of regarding it) and delivers the features and functionality that I want that helps make my life better organized, easier, more productive, fun, etc.

In reality, I’m not really sure exactly what more I want until you, Mr Device Manufacturer, show me what there is that I may want. It could be cool apps. Or maybe – and perhaps more likelier – it could be a really cool device that runs cool apps that do things in really cool or new and interesting ways, far more than just showing me the time, how many steps I’ve walked today and notifications from my smartphone.

Perhaps my current watch, the Samsung Gear 2 Neo, represents the peak of expectations from this type and generation of device and its capabilities at the moment. Maybe the coolness of it right now is as much as I’ll ever expect.

But I see nothing else out there at the moment, from any manufacturer on any platform, that lets me believe there’s a better mousetrap to consider.

Then, of course, there’s Apple Watch that’s due in April and about which Apple will be talking at an event in San Francisco at 10am Pacific time (5pm GMT) today, Monday March 9.

If I were looking at what I read about Apple Watch at the moment and consider where all that reporting and narrative would fit on any Gartner Hype Cycle, it would unquestionably be approaching the peak of inflated expectations.

"Gartner Hype Cycle" by Jeremykemp at en.wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

And yet.

I think today’s event – with expectations that are undoubtedly huge and possibly inflated – will include some eye-openers for anyone who a) has any current brand of smartwatch, b) has a menu of things they’d like to see in a smartwatch that they currently don’t see, and c) is wondering how a smartwatch is going to play a role in business communication and in the workplace.

Much of what I see people saying about Apple Watch in recent weeks has focused on features and functionality of the device itself. In the absence of any word from Apple on such topics – and there isn’t any – it’s all so much speculation and opinion until that event at 5pm GMT today.

Some of it, though, is informed opinion, worth paying attention to and setting some worthwhile expectations.

For instance:

Ars Technica, March 5: What to expect when we “spring forward” with Apple on March 9:

[…] What we’re likely to get on Monday is an actual launch date, more specific pricing information for all three versions of the product and their bands, and some kind of showcase of third-party apps. At iPhone and iPad launches, Apple usually has at least one or two devs come on stage to walk the audience through a demo that shows what the new hardware is capable of. iOS still enjoys the widest and deepest third-party support of any mobile platform, so we’d expect third-party support to be a major selling point for the Apple Watch as well.

WIRED, March 6 – What to Expect from the Apple Watch Event Monday:

[…] We should hear about clever functionality, like how the the Apple Watch can unlock your hotel room and your car. Apple execs will likely show off myriad health-tracking features, as well as the “Power Reserve” mode that strips the device’s functionality down to being just a watch—and might save you from having to charge it twice a day. Tim Cook will probably show eagerness about using it to buy food at Panera, because Tim Cook apparently loves using Apple Pay to buy food at Panera.

9to5 Mac, March 6: Sources offer hands-on Apple Watch details: battery life, unannounced features, and more:

[…] The Apple Watch’s battery life has concerned many prospective customers, as Apple said only that the Watch will need to be charged nightly. Earlier this year, we reported that Apple’s development targets for Apple Watch battery life were 2.5-4 hours for heavy app usage, versus 19 hours per day of combined usage between light app access, notifications, and Glances. Sources who have handled the Apple Watch tell us that Apple has improved the device’s battery life, noting that the final Apple Watch should be able to handle 5 hours of fairly heavy application usage, and it and won’t run out of battery during a typical day of mixed active and passive use. However, the source says that the device will still need to be charged nightly, as it will definitely not last through a second full day.

And so forth.

And yet.

I want to hear about something really interesting that let’s me do something equally interesting or new. For instance:

TechCrunch, March 6: The Apple Watch Is Time, Saved:

[…] People that have worn the Watch say that they take their phones out of their pockets far, far less than they used to. A simple tap to reply or glance on the wrist or dictation is a massively different interaction model than pulling out an iPhone, unlocking it and being pulled into its merciless vortex of attention suck. One user told me that they nearly “stopped” using their phone during the day; they used to have it out and now they don’t, period. That’s insane when you think about how much the blue glow of smartphone screens has dominated our social interactions over the past decade.

Nieman Journalism Lab, March 5: The next stage in the battle for our attention: Our wrists:

[…] While checking your phone is still not acceptable in all settings, it still beats the palpable sense of impatience associated with raising your wrist. Checking your smartwatch in company is going to require a new set of social norms to become natural and commonplace. Confusing what’s essentially a miniaturised smartphone with a conventional timepiece is an awkward behavior partially caused by these early smartwatches’ skeuomorphism, the design tendency to create technologies that mimic analog or real-world products in order to make themselves easier for users to understand. Eventually though, one imagines that, as Apple has done before, the idea of a watch as a reference point for these devices will grow less and less relevant.

Distinct behaviour shifts.

And this:

Financial Times, March 6: Apple tests luxury appeal with gold watch:

[…] Apple Watch is the first new product category to emerge from the company since Jobs’ death in 2011. Its ambitious pricing and luxury styling shows how Mr Cook and his design chief, Sir Jonathan Ive, hope Apple can transcend Silicon Valley to enter the more prestigious and lucrative worlds of fashion and jewellery. “I do see that the Watch is a move away from what is traditionally understood as consumer electronics,” Sir Jonathan said at a conference last year. “Apple has always been about ‘affordable luxury': at the higher end of the price range and with a premium feel, but it’s always been within reach of the ordinary consumer,” says Jan Dawson, technology analyst at Jackdaw Research. “This is the first time that Apple has moved into straightforward luxury.”

Bloomberg, March 6: Apple’s Secret Lab Lets Facebook [plus BMW, Starwood Hotels and others] Fine-Tune Apps Before the Watch’s Debut:

[…] As Apple’s first new device since the iPad in 2010, the stakes are high for Apple Watch, and the sophistication of the apps available is critical in wooing buyers. Just as the App Store has been a key reason for the iPhone’s success, tools for Apple Watch will help determine how customers use the gadget and whether it will be a sales hit. The watch must be paired with an iPhone to fully work, and anything less than seamless integration may alienate potential customers. […] Optimism over Apple’s new products, including the watch, has helped send the company’s shares to record highs in recent weeks. Sales of the new device in the first fiscal year may reach almost 14 million, according to the average estimates of five analysts surveyed by Bloomberg. Researcher Strategy Analytics projects Apple will take 55 percent of global smartwatch sales this year, when total shipments may reach 28.1 million units, up from 4.6 million in 2014.

Re/code, March 6: Apple Watch: What to Look For at Monday’s Event:

[…] Apple’s greatest challenge may not be outselling competitors in the wearable space – the first generation of Android smartwatches have gotten off to a sluggish start – but rather, convincing consumers to buy. […] Industry analysts and Wall Street investors are bullish on the watch, and Apple’s ability to energize a nascent consumer category. The company has done it before with the 2010 introduction of the iPad, which ignited the sleepy tablet business.

The Guardian/Observer, March 8: Crunch time: how the Apple Watch could create a $1tn company:

[…] Despite the pundits, on Wall Street and in the industry it is hard to find anyone to agree that the watch could flop. James McQuivey of Forrester Research said last week that “20 million people in the US alone are inclined to buy something new from Apple, giving Apple an easy shot at converting 10 million people to buy one between the US and international markets. We stand by our initial assessment that 10m units sold by year-end is likely.” McQuivey sounds like a pessimist compared to Huberty, who forecasts 30m, and Robert Leitao of Braeburn Group, who suggests 40m by the end of the year. The most pessimistic is Gene Munster, a stock analyst at Piper Jaffray, who reckons 8m.  The lowest of those numbers would dwarf the existing smartwatch market, where the biggest player, Pebble, has shipped just over 1m units in two years, and devices using Google’s “Android Wear” from companies including Samsung, Motorola and LG shipped just 720,000 in 2014. In all, 6.8m smartwatches shipped last year, according to research company Smartwatch Group, at an average price of $189, creating a market worth $1.3bn.

With so much opinion floating around, you’ll be hard-pressed to decide what to really pay attention to and what to largely ignore.

Whatever we hear from Apple today, I think it will be news that will mark the beginning of the second stage in the development of the smartwatches segment of the wearable technology industry.

Apple Watch

It could also be as disruptive to the watch industry – all watches not only luxury brands – as the launch of the iPod was to the music industry just after the turn of the century, as the launch of the iPhone was to the mobile phone business barely half a decade later, and – as some media reports point out – the launch of the iPad was to the tablet market just five years ago.

And finally, if you compare the Apple Watch image above with the photo of the Gear 2 Neo at the top of this post, you might notice how similar the watch faces look on both devices. That’s because the one on the Gear 2 Neo is actually the Apple Watch Watchface created by Jehezkiel Eugene S and available to buy in Samsung’s Gear Apps Store. It’s the best-looking watch face I’ve seen to customize my Gear 2 Neo.

Apple Watch – already making a visual impact.

  • If you want to watch the Apple event online as it happens, you can as Apple will be live-streaming the event. However, you will need Apple devices running Apple OSes to do that (ie, Macs, iPhones, iPads, Apple TV) and a lot of patience as you compete with thousands of other for the bandwidth. Alternatives will be mirror videostreams that others may set up, Apple’s live blog and many other live blogs, eg, TechCrunch (one of the best at events like these).

Adding a face to the HSBC name could go a long way

HSBC coverage by the Guardian

Reputation is built on trust and, for HSBC Bank, that chain has been well and truly disconnected through the revelations of alleged dirty deeds in its private banking operation in Switzerland that say the bank helped a large number of its private-banking clients evade tax that have been paraded through the mainstream media over the past week.

Whatever the actual facts of the matter, HSBC is being pilloried left, right and centre as a financial institution that helps wealthy people dodge tax – a very popular topic for politicians in the UK at the moment, with a general election on May 7, 2015 (that’s less than 80 days away).

Not only that, the bank faces criminal charges in the US, France, Belgium and Argentina – although not in the UK – resulting from information revealed by whistleblower Herve Falciani, the former HSBC IT contractor who blew the lid on this scandal (and did that some years ago, according to BusinessWeek and Der Spiegel).

The political angle took centre stage mid week with HMRC, the government department responsible for the collection of taxes, robustly and publicly accused of failing its duty to pursue tax dodgers in this case, and tax avoiders – again, a popular topic for politicians.

As the week wore on and negative commentary intensified, there was little substantive word from HSBC about the issue other than reports on the bank saying that it all related to “unacceptable practices” within its Swiss operation that took place some years ago and which don’t reflect the bank’s way of doing business today.

Many newspapers have been publishing reports and other content that analyse the bank and its business practices that go way beyond this current scandal. Take the Guardian, for example, which has extensive coverage as the image at the top illustrates, all of which undoubtedly leave the reader with the strong feeling that HSBC is a secretive bank not to be trusted (at best), and one that is run by, employs, and does business with, people who behave like crooks (at worst).

The Economist has a good report on cases in recent years focused on data stolen to expose alleged tax evasion, and a candid assessment of HSBC’s current predicament:

The questions for the bank are whether it reacted quickly enough to tighten compliance with tax laws after governments started to investigate in 2010, and how much pain the scandal will cause.

And now the latest development this weekend – HSBC published a public apology in the form of ads in the national press on Sunday signed by Stuart Gulliver, CEO of HSBC Holdings plc, the UK-based holding company.

He says:

We would like to provide some reassurance and state some of the facts that lie behind the stories. The media focus has been on historical events that show the standards to which we operate today were not universally in place in our Swiss operations 8 years ago. We must show we understand that the societies we serve expect more from us. We therefore offer our sincerest apologies.

You can read the complete statement, embedded below:

HSBC Private Bank Announcement Feb 15, 2015

The document refers to another document the bank has published on an HSBC website entitled Progress Update – January 2015, a four-page report on this affair and some detail explaining what the bank has been doing “to prevent its banking services being used to evade taxes or launder money.”

I know nothing of HSBC’s crisis communication plan that surely is well into execution by now, nor the specific public or investor relations objectives of these documents this weekend.

Yet, I cannot see how two rather dry documents like this – PDFs at that: try reading those on your iPhone or BlackBerry – will do anything meaningful to address the assault on the bank’s reputation and the impending collapse of trust.

I’m reminded of the 2015 Trust Barometer published by Edelman last month, one of the findings in which clearly shows one industry sector where trust has declined for another year, even if by only one percentage point over 2014 – banks (page 16 in the report).

I’m also reminded of a point Edelman has made in almost every Trust Barometer since the first report was published fifteen years ago – the negative outcomes distrust in a company can create (and, in contrast, the benefits trust in a company can generate), as this chart illustrates (page 40 in the report).

2015 Trust Barometer page 40

If you want to really get attention to an apology in a crisis like this – especially one that embroils a company in an industry as reviled as financial services still is – you would want to present a face of humility, humbleness, honesty and authenticity, complemented by assurance, authority and the sense that “I will get things done.”

You may think such attributes come across in both documents. No, they don’t. It means a real face, not PDFs drummed up by the corporate writer which he or she affixes a facsimile of the CEO’s signature to one of them, with the other being wholly anonymous.

I’d like to see a bold move with the CEO on camera delivering the apology along with the plan on what he is doing to fix things, and with a promise to report progress in a similar manner. That means a video, posted on YouTube with open exposure to myriad sharing opportunities across the social web.

HSBC has a YouTube channel.

Even though the 2015 Trust Barometer shows yet again that CEOs generally are not trusted voices for a corporation (page 20 in the report), it’s a lot better than a sterile PDF.

Rays of light amongst the gloom in the 2015 Trust Barometer

2015 Trust BarometerIf you glance through the 2015 Trust Barometer published by the Edelman PR firm on January 20, you’d be forgiven for thinking that things are bad if not dire everywhere.

The report – marking the 15th consecutive year Edelman has been publishing this – contains the results from surveying 33,000 people in 27 countries in order to paint a picture of public trust in business, the media, government and NGOs in those 27 countries and averaging across the world.

The data Edelman gathered from conducting the survey during the final quarter of 2014 enabled them to glean insights and come to some credible conclusions on the general state of trust around the world.

Three headline metrics paint a pretty bleak picture:

  • Trust in institutions drops to the level of the Great Recession (let’s start with the headline of the press release, referring to the global economic downturn that began in 2007/8).
  • Trust in government, business, media and NGOs in the general population is below 50 percent in two-thirds of countries surveyed.
  • Informed public respondents are nearly as distrustful, registering trust levels below 50 percent in half of the countries surveyed.

This picture is well presented in a chart that Edelman calls “The New Trust Deficit” showing that nearly 66 percent of countries are now distrusters among the general online population.

The New Trust Deficit

Each country has its own story to tell that throws some light on individual findings, as Edelman CEO Richard Edelman notes in the introduction to the report’s Executive Summary:

[…] We see an evaporation of trust across all institutions, as if no one has the answers to the unpredictable and unimaginable events of 2014. For the first time, two-thirds of the 27 nations we survey (general population data) fall into the “distruster” category. The horrific spread of Ebola in Western Africa, the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines 370 plus two subsequent major air disasters, the arrests of top Chinese government officials on corruption charges, the foreign exchange rate rigging by six of the world’s largest banks and the constant drumbeat of data breaches, most recently from Sony Pictures, have shaken confidence in all institutions.

In reviewing the 48-page report as well as the shorter summary, I was struck by these findings:

  1. The top three most credible spokespeople for an organization continue to be –
    – Academic or industry expert
    – Company of technical expert
    – “A person like yourself”
  2. There are further declines in CEO credibility as a spokesperson to the extent that this report shows that CEOs are not credible as spokesperson in three-quarters of countries surveyed. That is staggering.
  3. The pace of development and change in business and industry is far too fast for 51 percent of survey respondents, with not enough time spent on development and testing of products before the rush to market.
  4. Drivers of change in business and industry are perceived to be about technology, business growth targets, greed and money, and personal ambition. Improving people’s lives and making the world a better place hardly get a look in, with both factoring below 30 percent.
  5. 51 percent of respondents said the most important role for government in business is to protect consumers and regulate business.
  6. Most countries trust local governments more than federal or central governments. Although the numbers for individual countries vary widely, the global average comes in at 50-50.
  7. Search engines are now the most trusted sources for general news and information – very bad news for the monolithic model of mainstream media – with a 72 percent trust rank.
  8. Search engines are now the first source survey respondents go to for general information, breaking news, and to confirm or validate news. Search engines are way out front as first sources for general information and to confirm/validate news, and equal with television as the first source for breaking news.
  9. Put number 7 another way – for the first time, online search engines are now a more trusted source for general news and information (64 percent) than traditional mainstream media (62 percent).
  10. 63 percent of respondents said they refuse to buy products and services from a company they do not trust, while 58 percent will criticize them to a friend or colleague. Conversely, 80 percent chose to buy products from companies they trusted, with 68 percent recommending those companies to a friend. Such stated behaviour should be of little surprise to anyone in advertising, marketing and PR, although the high percentages in each case might be.

There is much more to digest and consider in this excellent report, available on free download.

And what about the “rays of light” I mentioned in the headline of this post? To me, that’s about some of the ten points above that I see as opportunities for organizations – whether business, media, government or NGOs – who recognize the continuously-changing and -evolving landscape and look upon it as a place to be that builds connections, trust and understanding between people for mutual benefit. Opportunity is knocking.

Finally, Edelman has a short video that will take you on a tour of the 2015 Trust Barometer. Worth two minutes and forty seconds of your time.