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Clouds Gather on the Tech-Trust Horizon

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The 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer revealed that trust in all four institutions measured – government, business, the media and NGOs – is increasing, with business in the lead. Across the 33,000 respondents in 28 countries, we saw a rise of 5 percent in trust in business this year, a larger increase than in any of the other three institutions. Those surveyed also trust business more than the other institutions to keep pace with the changing times.

Within the institution of global business, things look especially bright for the Tech sector. Of the eight industry sectors included in the Trust Barometer, Technology continues to dominate. A full 74 percent of survey respondents said that they trust Tech businesses “to do what is right.” This is 10 points above Food and Beverage, the next trusted sector, and 23 points above the laggard, Financial Services, sliding in at just 51 percent. It’s no wonder that so many companies, from auto makers to banks, shoe designers to fast-food retailers are not only are using tech to drive competitive advantage and increase their valuations, but are also declaring themselves “tech companies” to bask in that halo of innovation, efficiency and futurism.

From this vantage point, one might envision blue skies ahead for Tech companies. Digging a bit deeper, though, Edelman’s additional Technology sector specific Trust data reveals cause for concern:

  1. Tech companies are perceived as not behaving well on some very important fronts. There are some highly concerning gaps between how respondents expect Tech companies to behave, and how they believe Tech companies are actually behaving. In terms of protecting consumer data, for example, this difference spans 19 points. On transparency of reporting on social responsibility, 18 points. “Keeping me and my family safe,” 15 points, and ensuring quality control, 11 points. Tech companies have the power and mandate to address these issues and would be wise to do so without inviting regulatory action, or at least by participating in solutions more proactively. These are reasonable public expectations. Tech companies would also do well to note that their customers, in addition to being excited by the originality and convenience of their products and services, want to hear more directly and candidly about how these impact their privacy, awareness and safety.
  1. Respondents have significantly lower trust in Tech CEO’s than in the Tech Industry in general – in fact, just 61 percent. While Trust in CEO’s is flagging overall, Tech’s was a bigger disparity than any other sector. Perhaps CEO’s are (rightfully or not) taking the brunt for the decisions involved in issue No. 1. There’s a clear call in this for Tech CEO’s to pay much more attention to their reputations, listen more closely their to stakeholders, and respond accordingly, or risk losing impact and influence when their audiences turn to others.
  1. The general population trusts important tech subsectors notably less than the overall tech sector. While overall Tech sector trust ranked at 74 percent, when asked if they trust companies to “do what is right” in those subsectors, the concerns appeared with significant drops: just 51 percent for cloud storage, 50 percent for virtual/augmented/mixed reality; 47 percent for autonomous vehicles and 43 percent for companies in the Internet of Things.

There’s work to be done, clearly. One bright note, especially given the frenzied talent wars for world-class engineers and designers, is that people who work in the Tech sector respond particularly well to certain behaviors that nearly every company can emulate: they care deeply about whether their companies are doing good in the world. When Tech companies engage in societal issues, their employees advocate for them across a sweeping range of performance factors. They report that these companies have higher commitment to achieving their strategies and do the best possible job for their customers. These employees are far more likely to recommend the company as an employer (25 points),  to recommend their company’s products and services (17 points), to express confidence in the future of the company (22 points), and to stay working for the company (17 points). Those numbers are hard to ignore for any company serious about winning and keeping top Tech talent: build trust with them and they will help the company build it beyond.

View the full results on Trust in the Technology sector below.

Maria Amundson is the global chair of Edelman’s Technology sector. Follow her on Twitter @MariaAmundson.

Image by KeithProvenArtist.
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