Australia’s trust bubble has well and truly burst. That’s the overwhelming takeaway from this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer Australian report, released this week.
Edelman – BBS Communications Group’s global partner firm – has been tracking the issue of trust for 22 years.
In 2022, the report highlighted an Australian society now operating on a default of distrust unless proven otherwise, as cited by 55 per cent of respondents.
Following a 2021 Trust Barometer increase in trust levels towards the major institutions of government, media, business and NGOs – seemingly driven by the early response to the COVID-19 pandemic – levels have now fallen sharply.
In line with a series of leadership missteps – and the persistent issue of misinformation – during the pandemic’s second year, respondents in this year’s study reported a decrease in trust levels for government (down 9 points), media (down 8 points), business (down 5 points) and NGOs (down 4 points).
Alarmingly, 2022 respondents considered media (55 per cent) and government (52 per cent) to now be dividing forces in society rather than unifying ones.
These depleted levels of trust are even filtering down to a personal level, with 61 per cent of respondents now feeling incapable of having constructive and civil debates about issues on which they disagree.
The role of business
So, what does this mean for businesses? The 2022 Trust Barometer highlighted the role of business as critical to stabilising the current cycle of distrust, with Australian findings such as:
- Business being the only institution perceived as competent and ethical, as well as an effective driver of positive change.
- 74 per cent of respondents trusting their employer foremost, over and above business, NGOs, government and media generally.
- Employer communications considered a source of believable information (at 70 per cent), more so than information from the national government (63 per cent), media reports with named sources (58 per cent) and social media feeds (35 per cent).
- Sectors like healthcare, education and food and beverage ranking highest for levels of trust and beverage, while conversely, social media, financial services and energy ranked lowest.
Respondents also indicated some or a strong expectation that CEOS should inform and shape conversations and policy debates about issues like jobs/economy (72 per cent), wage inequality (72 per cent), technology and automation (68 per cent) and global warming and climate change (61 per cent).
For businesses to cut-through and establish or build solid levels of trust moving forward, the following will be key factors:
Almost nothing erodes trust more quickly than information which is not credible or blatantly untrue.
A commitment by your business to always seek and share the truth through quality, fact-based information – and corporate transparency – is essential to being trusted.
This also means being firm in setting and sticking to your corporate values and position on key issues as part of your corporate communication and media relations approach. Changing the narrative too often weakens your message and can further lead to a lack of belief in what’s being said.
According to this year’s Trust Barometer respondents, taking action was considered more of a strength for business (59 per cent) and NGOs (51 per cent) rather than media (45 per cent) and government (43 per cent) in terms of successfully executing plans and strategies that yield results.
Taking action on key issues and challenges – and delivering on promises – proves you can do more than simply pay lip service. This is critical to establishing a track record for being a trustworthy and effective driver of change.
As we’ve written before, identifying, understanding and engaging with stakeholders closely is paramount when it comes to building trust.
With fear a major driver of distrust, this is especially true when it comes to understanding the fears that your customers, clients, employees, partners, stakeholders and community members may hold, and reassuring them.
According to this year’s Trust Barometer, some of the major societal fears facing Australians include job loss (80 per cent), hackers and cyber-attacks (66 per cent) and climate change (62 per cent).
Identifying the fears held by your internal and external stakeholders – and demonstrating leadership towards addressing these – is key to further building trust.