Research Insight

Intellectual Property and Trust in the Age of Digital Media



The 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals a new formula for building trust, one in which engagement carries a multiplier effect. Engagement and ongoing communication and dialogue with multiple stakeholders are both more critical than ever, but also more difficult to execute well. Today’s reality is that CEOs are not trusted to be credible spokespersons for their organization (only 43 percent believe CEOs have credibility) and more people now look for business information on search engines (31 percent) than television (22 percent) or newspapers (21 percent). Businesses and other institutions need a new strategy for starting and influencing conversations about their organization or industry, one in which the creation and stewardship of intellectual property plays a key role.

Today’s media landscape is vastly different compared to 15 years ago, when the Trust Barometer was first fielded. For the first time in 2015, search engines are now the most trusted source for general news and information among the informed public, surpassing traditional media by two percentage points among the global informed public, and by eight percentage points among Millennials. Social media has risen to a trust level of 48 percent (59 percent among Millennials). Today, it’s all about starting peer-to-peer conversations and making sure that your content is easy to find.

Media Sources

More voices shape those conversations about your organization or your industry than ever before. Seventy-two percent trust information posted by friends and family on social media, blogs and other digital sites, while 70 percent trust content posted by academic experts. On the other end of the spectrum, content from a company CEO or elected officials is trusted by only 46 percent and 40 percent of the global informed public, respectively.

Building trust requires high levels of engagement from multiple stakeholders, and peer-level conversations are especially effective. For most institutions, starting those conversations requires more than a viral video or shareable GIF. It requires a thoughtful, informed point of view on important industry issues and customer concerns, and a strategy for using that intellectual property to power conversations among multiple stakeholders.

Intellectual Property as Conversation Starter

There is good news in this year’s Trust Barometer for companies who want to build trust: owned media, defined as “media sources that are owned and controlled by a company or brand, such as a company/brand website or … software application,” is now trusted by 47 percent of the global informed public — a number that rises to 57 percent for Millennials.

Educated consumers are more open than they have ever been to information created directly by businesses. In fact, on digital media platforms such as social media or blogs, content created by “companies I use” is more trusted than content created by a journalist (60 percent vs. 53 percent).

The informed public plays a far more active role in finding and selecting the information it consumes, and is willing to engage with information from companies they know.

Conversations are Trust Builders

The most important drivers of trust are predicated on clear, open communication. Integrity, which includes “transparent and open business practices,” is the most important cluster of trust attributes, along with engagement, which includes listening and the need to communicate “frequently and honestly” on the state of a company’s business. Both are critical attributes, but companies are underperforming in both areas, making them the most high-impact opportunities for increasing trust levels.

Transparency and open conversations are also critical to building trust in an industry’s ability to develop and implement innovations. And it’s important to involve a broad set of stakeholders in those conversations. Academics and industry experts are not only trusted content creators, they are also the most credible spokespersons in shaping opinions of a company. In light of this ongoing dispersion of influence and media authority, developing and managing a strong base of intellectual property has become a key strategy for anyone charged with building trust in an institution. A foundation of data-driven insight and perspective sparks and informs conversations, and creates the opportunity for multiple stakeholders to engage, share and discuss the issues that matter to a broader community.

Today, trust is built through peer-to-peer conversations and engagement with academics and other third-party experts. Intellectual property is the town square in which those conversations now take place.

Tonia Ries is the executive director of Edelman Square, the agency’s intellectual property center.

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