The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals several dramatic changes in people’s trust. For the first time, media is now the least-trusted institution globally. The United States experienced the most dramatic decline in general population trust, with a 37-point aggregate drop in trust across the institutions of business, government, NGOs and media; only 33 percent of Americans now trust government and only 45 percent trust the media.

Edelman Dallas recently convened a panel of the area’s top communications and media experts to discuss the implications of these findings for media, employers and business leaders. In the course of a spirited conversation, they outlined several new imperatives for building trust in these troubled times;

Learn and educate: The panelists discussed fake news as a driver of dwindling trust in the media and shared their professional insights on ways to combat false narratives and unsubstantiated facts. Keith Campbell, Managing Editor of the Dallas Morning News, noted that educating the public on what “good” reporting and journalism looks like is a critical first step in building trust. News outlets must also build relationships with their audience by understanding the consumption and ideological differences between Gen-Y and previous generations. Tony Pederson, the Belo Distinguished Chair in Journalism at Southern Methodist University, explained that, as members of the Gen-Y generation are the first true digital natives born into the connected world, they are inherently skeptical about the reliability and credibility of information. Rather than look to a mediator, such as the media, they prefer to self-aggregate and self-substantiate the news.

Keep it real and relevant: Kim Morgan, Director of Global Public Affairs at Yum! KFC Global, said that companies must address fake news as if it’s real news. They must be prepared with an issue and crisis management plan, as fake news can severely impact the bottom line if it spreads. Because of the drop in trust in the media, the general population is looking to businesses not only to speak up but also to lead change. 

Speak out: CEOs and business leaders now have a clear mandate and license to take charge. Business is not only expected to advocate on relevant issues but also to fully educate the public about why they matter.

Live your mission: Panelists agreed that a strong mission serves to fill customer expectations without disenfranchising its various stakeholder groups. Kim Morgan said that a mission is critical to the ability to manage potential issues or crises as well as ensure the customer experience is consistent in every market. Kate Lowery, Global Vice President of Public Relations of HomeAway, said that in the face of its recent acquisition, established core values were key to maintaining brand identity.  Suzie Upton, Chief Operating Officer at the American Heart Association, said that a well-defined mission is critical to maintaining credibility, even in the face of controversy, a philosophy that has guided her organization through challenging times in the face of changing health care landscape.

Empower employees: Companies also have an opportunity to mobilize employees as their most trusted brand advocates.  Forty-seven percent of Edelman Trust Barometer respondents view employees as credible sources. Companies can look at media echo chambers to understand seeds of mistrust and where they may start with employees. Cydney Roach said more and more organizations are actively seeking employee input on important company issues – even bottoms up strategy planning – to build the trust that turns employees into advocates. Kim Morgan noted that companies should make every effort to better understand how to instill trust in employees who serve as advocates and communicate on behalf of a company. In this effort, companies may have to become less risk-adverse over time when it comes to operational processes or procedures such as social media policies. 

Embrace change: The panel was collectively optimistic about the future of trust, provided institutions make the necessary adjustments required to meet and exceed consumer and employee expectations. Tony Pederson of SMU provided historical context for the primary factors that drive and diminish trust, citing that this generation of students and future leaders are motivated to drive change. Suzie Upton of AHA encouraged organizations to think about how to help channel the energy of the next generation and further empower them to enact change. 

Provide common ground: Companies and global brands can provide common ground, regardless of their individual viewpoints. If companies and industries can establish core values, empower their employees as brand ambassadors and embrace the motivations driving the emerging generation of leaders, businesses can emerge as true heroes.

Jorge Ortega is general manager, Edelman Southwest.