Whilst business, government and civil leaders at this year’s World Economic Forum discussed, at large, the implications and challenges of living and operating in today’s complex, interdependent and interconnected world, I’ve noticed a trend that seems to be sneaking up on everyone – a growing trust deficit.
To be clear, I am not only referring to the rapidly declining public trust in corporate and political leaders. I am also talking about people losing trust in the information channels they themselves use, the quality of content they consume and even the celebrities they idolise.
Trust deficit seems to be an increasing concern in all aspects of our daily life. Though don’t take my word for it – let me give you a few examples to prove my point.
Back in November 2012, a Financial Times article, reported that a widely covered claim that Google had made a $400m acquisition turned out to be completely false. The fraudulent story was caught only after the AP, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Techcrunch and GigaOm, among many other news services and blogs, reported on the acquisition. Through a quote by a renowned author and academic who specialises in digital media, the article advised that the risks of making a very bad decision based on false information are growing, and that people need to narrow the number of sources they trust.
Also back in November I wrote a blog, which focused on the lack of balance between the quality of some of the content we consume on daily basis and our ability to evaluate that quality properly due to an information overload. I strongly believe that this is leading to an expanding trust gap, prompting us to constantly question whether the information we receive from various news, or other sources, is indeed objective and accurate. A DealBook article summarises this in a great way: “the fluid nature of this world is enhanced by digital communication. With the collapse in newspaper readership and the spread of social media, everyone gets little snippets of information, and never fully understands the implications. Very few people do deeper reading and thinking.” Beyond the growing trust deficit towards communication channels and content, we also seem to be challenged by a growing disappointment with the trustworthiness of our role models – to steal a sentence from USA Today (this article is a particularly excellent read on this), in a nutshell, is anything for real these days? Many have argued that a growing lack of trust can have huge implications on our society and economy – just Google ‘financial crisis’ or ‘losing faith in politicians’.
From a communications point of view, however, this challenging state of affairs can be turned into an advantage by companies who are willing to bet on being open and transparent. In fact, a business, being able to build a strong culture of trust with key stakeholders, can, in my opinion, be better prepared to ensure an admirable level of competitiveness and resilience.
The first step to transparency may take time and investment, as London Business School Professor Ioannis Ioannou argues in this blog post. Professor Ioannou says: “[cultures of trust] require the establishment of a strong foundation in the form of organisational governance, stakeholder engagement, longer-term horizons, transparency, accountability and trustworthy communication with constituencies.”
In addition, I would say that from a very practical external communications point of view, businesses on a trust-building crusade need to ensure that they produce the quality of content and spokespeople expected by their stakeholders. They also have to deliver their messages and stories through trusted channels, which in some cases can even include owned platforms, such as corporate websites, blogs, videos, etc. For further reading on steps business can take to build trust in today’s environment, I’d highly recommend reading my colleague’s – Sara Benwell – blog from a couple of weeks ago.
Investing time and resource to ensure that they “walk the talk” and are consistent in their positions, both internally and externally, can only be of benefit to businesses today. After all, the trust deficit is here to stay and in a world where it looks like crisis will be the new normal, companies and individuals can place themselves on the front foot by simply saying and doing things, but for real.