Who Do The British Public Trust?, And Why?


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PR and communications experts are concerned with establishing trust between an organisation and its stakeholders – be they consumers, other businesses, voters or society at large.

No wonder then, that Edelman, one of the world’s largest PR agencies, has carried out a global surveyinto the public levels of trust in different institutions and organisations. Looking at the UK segment of the research, I’ve cherrypicked some interesting points for discussion.

By Ahmed Ahmed, Senior Account Manager at Clarity

THE GOVERNMENT AND THE MEDIA ARE LOSING TRUST

Compared with the 2013 study, there was no difference in the level of trust shown in ‘business’ as a whole: 56%. Trust in both the media and the government, however, fell. Both previously at 47%, they dropped to 41 and 42%.

ARE SCANDALS AND EXPOSÉS TO BLAME?

A number of political scandals broke last year, from Chris Huhne’s driving offences, to the revelations about NSA and GCHQ’s cooperation in internet eavesdropping.

While neither of these can be laid squarely at the feet of the present government, such episodes contribute to growing public suspicion of politics and politicians. ‘Poor performance’ was the top reason survey respondents gave, perhaps an indictment of the slow economic recovery.

The media has also had its share of damaging exposés: the continuing phone hacking saga, the Daily Mail’s attack on Milliband senior, and the BBC salaries and ‘payoffs’ row. The most common reason given for not trusting the media was ‘lack of regulation,’ suggesting the public may want more robust controls on the press.

TECHNOLOGY AND BREWING ARE HIGHLY TRUSTED INDUSTRIES

It seems the trust we place in our handy smartphones and tablets is reflected on a larger scale. Technology was the most trusted industry, scoring 79% (up from 72% last year).

Interestingly for us at Clarity, given our work with Marstons and Aston Manor, the brewing industry scored a high 71%. This was up from 62% last year, due in part, we like to think, to the rising popularity of real ale.

When it comes to distrust, it seems Energy is the new Banking. We’d grown familiar with anti-City sentiment throughout the Recession, but towards the end of 2013, a new ‘villain’ emerged on the public stage: the energy companies. They dropped from a 38% to a 32% trust level.

Banking, however, did rise from 29% to 32% trust, perhaps indicating some ‘green shoots’ of recovery for the sector’s reputation in the public eye.

WHY DOES TRUST MATTER?

Leaving aside the warm- and-fuzzy side of things, there are clear business consequences when an organisation fails to build trust with its public.

In the Trust Barometer, participants reported that when they distrusted a company, they:

  • Refused to buy its product or service (53%)
  • Criticised them to a friend or colleague (56%)
  • Shared negative opinions online (30%)

And conversely, when participants trusted the company, they:

  • Chose to buy from them (63%)
  • Recomended to a friend or colleague (51%)
  • Paid more for products and services (36%)
  • Shared positive opinions online (32%)

BUILDING TRUST THROUGH COMMUNICATIONS

Communicating the right message to the right people, in the right place, in the right way, is absolutely essential.

PR agencies like Edelman, and of course Clarity, spend time getting to know their clients’ audiences, and craft strategies designed to build trust. They do this not simply via traditional press activity or events, but through online interaction and engagement as well, harnessing a multi-way conversation.

In the age of microblogging and online reviews, when a single disgruntled customer can achieve instant global publicity, it’s vital to be able to respond and rebuild trust rapidly and continually.

Trust is no longer the end goal; it’s the whole process.

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