Truth and consequences about trust

On the basis that a picture is worth a thousand words, the chart below speaks loudly and clearly about the decline in trust in businesses that’s practically uniform in almost all the 20 countries included in the Edelman 2009 Trust Barometer survey of trust and credibility in business and government, published yesterday.


It illustrates the answer by those surveyed to this simple questions:

Thinking about everything you have read, seen, or heard about business in the last year, in general, do you trust corporations a lot less, a little less, the same, a little more, or a lot more than you did at the same time last year?

It’s a bleak-looking picture especially in 10 countries – that’s half those surveyed – where at least two-thirds of people say their trust in business has diminished a lot. The number is alarming-looking in Ireland (83%), Japan (79%) and USA (77%).

The average across the 20 countries: 62% of people – nearly two thirds – trust business less.

What about trust in government? How has that fared in 2008?


Not particularly good, especially when compared to trust in business which, as you saw in the previous chart, declined dramatically last year in nearly all the countries surveyed.

Given the current global economic and financial crisis, should such decline in trust be any surprise at all? Even the alarming-looking percentages?

In my view, the most important question is: What do we do about declines in trust? It’s almost but not a Royal We: every one of us has the power to do something to address the decline in trust.

I’m going to say two words: engagement and conversation.

That means more identifying and connecting directly with individuals instead of the (easier) mass communication typified by most advertising, marketing and other organizational communication.

Social media can be such an effective means to engage and converse. Markets are conversations, remember.

As communicators, are we up to it? Can we recognize the truth behind declining trust? Edelman’s latest research gives us some compelling sign posts.

The 2009 Trust Barometer is Edelman’s 10th annual report on trust, the interpretation of the results of research conducted in telephone interviews during December 2008 among a sampling of 25 to 64 year olds (what Edelman calls “informed publics”) in 20 countries. It was presented yesterday at a press event at Edelman’s London office.

You can download a variety of PDFs from Edelman’s website including Richard Edelman’s presentation (from which the charts above come), the transcript of the speech given by Joe Garner, General Manager UK Personal Financial Services at HSBC Bank, as well as an executive summary and press release texts.

[Later] Edelman has a new page on their corporate website that aggregates news reporting and blog commentary about the Trust Barometer as well as video footage of Richard Edelman giving his presentation –

There’s a neat quiz on that site: Trust Your Instincts.


Tip: for a high score, either know your subject matter very well indeed, or read the 2009 Trust Barometer before you take it. :)

Yesterday marked my first visit to Edelman’s spiffy new offices in London’s Victoria, where all Edelman’s UK operations are now housed under one roof. The room where the presentation took place was expectedly hi-tech with good visibility on the various flat-panel display screens from wherever you were in the crowded room.

27-01-2009-16-20-24-sm Two of those panels showed a live Twitter stream of comments and opinion from people in the room using the tag #etb09.

That very quickly spread to comments by others elsewhere who weighed in with their thoughts, based on what others at the event were saying as well as being able to access the content online, all of which is fully trackable with simple tools like Twitter search as long as everyone used the #etb09 tag. (The display of tweets came via, a tool I’d love to know more about.)

Engaging and conversing: a small example of one way, and so easy to do.

Something to expect more of at live events.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Paul Seaman

    We need to ask some tough questions about Edelman’s Trust Barometer.

    Edelman: By a 3:1 margin, respondents say that government should intervene to regulate industry or nationalize companies to restore public trust.
    PS [Me]: Regulation and nationalisation are profoundly different things. And both come in lots of forms. The question and answers are sort of meaningless.

    So, we’re a bit short of people to trust just now. Good, one might say. A bit more scepticism (a bit less trust) might have kept us safer all along.

    Fact is lots of firms have retained the trust they need. And you could go further: we do in some sense still trust banks, since they are still doing most of what most of us ever used them for.

    If people are not buying cars or houses, a lack of trust has nothing to do with it. The problem is a shortage of money and credit. We can’t have it both ways. We don’t trust banks now because they were so profligate before. Being mean makes them hateful, but more trustworthy. More here:

  2. Gretchen Brandtjen

    This is a wonderful post about truth and the need for transparency within an organization. The information from Edelman’s 2009 Trust Barometer reinforces the need to create strong reputations within an organization. I recently wrote a post on my blog (, which uses resources from Truth and consequences about trust. Thank you for the insightful information.

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