The Collapse of Trust

distrustI caught a BBC interview this morning with Richard Edelman, Chairman of Edelman Worldwide. He was speaking from the World Economic Forum in Davos, about the often-cited Edelman Trust Barometer, his company’s annual global survey on the trust and credibility of key institutions. Edelman himself looked shaken by the results of the 2018 Barometer. Here’s a link to the Executive Summary. I felt it was worth sharing.

Globally — but most especially in the US — there has been an unprecedented crash in trust in institutions, particularly media and government, and in information. People have no faith in the information they have been receiving, and in their own ability to distinguish real information from fake news. Nowhere is this collapse of trust more evident than in the US, where media are under attack from government as never before.

There is an interesting nuance to the fall of trust in media, however: Respondents view “media” as including the non-traditional online platforms, including social media, from which many people get most of their news and insights. But trust has fallen sharply both in social media as sources of truth and (tellingly) in the veracity of information gathered from “people like me” —  peers in social networks. There is a substantial uptick in trust for experts, especially technical experts, and a downgrading of information populism. This reverses a several year trend of cynicism toward expertise, and distrust of the motives and credibility of experts. If accurate and sustained, this reversal could suggest a renewed interest in institutions like science and academia — in my opinion, a welcome and overdue development. Oh, and this includes journalists — respondents say they distrust media, but trust in journalists rose, year-on-year, more sharply than for any other group.

The 2018 Trust Barometer also measured a significant uptick in trust for business leaders, CEOs and brands. That’s the main reason I’m blogging about this.

One of the main forms of work product I generate for corporate clients is Thought Leadership content — bylined articles, white papers, eBooks, guest blog posts and the like. There is great demand for this kind of content because corporate-affiliated thought leaders have important ideas to convey, but little time to devote to writing. I help people who have this quandary to get their ideas out of their heads and into erudite prose.

Edelman’s 2018 Trust Barometer forces us to confront some dark realities about the global economy. But it also presents us with an opportunity: Globally, people are hungry for ideas, and increasingly are looking to thought leaders from the business community to provide them — including ideas that have little direct connection to your company’s commercial offerings, but for which you nonetheless have genuine authority by virtue of your institutional leadership.

The world is listening. You have knowledge to contribute. Your thought leadership content — already a key component of a realistic Content Marketing program — will find an increasingly receptive audience this year, and that can help increase Awareness and Audience Engagement with your brand. If I can help you to get your ideas out there, please let me know.

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