For the second year in the eighteen-year history of the Edelman Trust Barometer survey, Edelman has asked respondents in both the general population and the informed public how much they trust high interest technology companies to “do what’s right”. Alongside technology concepts like self-driving vehicles and the Internet-of-Things, Edelman asked about a technology that aims to redefine the concept of trust itself—blockchain. While these findings do not presume to be as comprehensive as the master survey, they do offer some important (if faint) signals.
Here are five blockchain-related thoughts inspired by responses from members of the Edelman Trust Barometer’s informed publics panel.
In the original Bitcoin whitepaper that described how a blockchain would work, author(s) Satoshi Nakamoto said that institutional trust needed to be replaced with cryptographic proof in order to build a decentralized financial system. The informed publics in only a handful of countries trusted blockchain companies to a degree equal to the broader tech sector, or nearly so. To achieve their full promise, blockchain companies need not only to articulate how their solution transforms the way we think of trust but need to do so in a way that makes it easy to appreciate the differences.
Indonesia, China, and India remained in the top three countries in terms of trust in blockchain, with Singapore and the UAE breaking into the top five, having notched 19 and 11-percentage-point gains, respectively. Whereas last year’s center of gravity in the top-five tended to favor large and emerging Asia-Pacific manufacturing centers, it’s interesting to see two countries known primarily as major financial centers—a segment that didn’t place quite as high last year—show some momentum.
The one common thread across the five highest trust-gaining countries — Singapore (+19 percent) and UAE (+11 percent) along with Australia (+17 percent), Argentina (+14 percent), and Sweden (+14 percent) — was news of government-supported projects or, otherwise, greater acceptance of the category. Moving forward, proponents of blockchain technology within and across industries will not only need to demonstrate the win-win for regulators (who rather like the idea of tamper-proof ledgers) but also show how it can enable largely self-regulating environments. (Thought experiment: if blockchain technology were invented, understood, and widely deployed years ago, would an Enron, HealthSouth, or Satyam-like scandal have been possible?)
Let’s face it: Trust in just about everything cratered in the United States over the last year. Faith that government, NGOs, media, and business would “do what’s right” dropped between 20 and 30 percentage points within those master categories. Trust in blockchain companies suffered a similar drop in the U.S. This probably has less to do with the category itself but with the overwhelming pressures on trust in the country. That said, it is nevertheless another indicator that blockchain companies need to articulate how their offering provides a new way of thinking about trust itself — even in a potentially countercyclical way.
The past few years, blockchain enthusiasts and the press have been excited about the truly incredible pilot projects in this space. They have ample reason to, since our world stands to be substantially transformed for the better if even some of these projects deliver at scale. This is where this category needs to go: Projects that demonstrate blockchain technology can emerge from the relatively sterile confines of a pilot project into true, transformative, production-class environments. It’s a future that communicators need to prepare for and help others do the same.
Phil Gomes is a senior vice president, Edelman Digital.