What the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer Insights Mean for Crisis Communications

This year’s Edelman Trust Barometer revealed an alarming trend: an overwhelming lack of faith in “the system” – the institutional pillars that make up society. Trust declined across the board in business, government, media and NGOs, leaving a sobering (and possibly scary) reality when it comes to issues and crisis management. If people are less inclined to trust you during “business as usual,” how will they trust you when something goes wrong?

Rather than dwell on this seemingly bleak environment, we are taking these insights and applying them to crisis management principles so you can better manage reputational incidents while keeping today’s realities in mind.

  1. You’re starting in a reputational hole. Nothing is more difficult than trying to resolve a reputational issue when you are dealing with an already-skeptical public. More Americans than ever have concerns about wide-spread corruption, globalization, and technological innovation. If you are working to restore the reputation of an industry leader or international conglomerate, you are starting with a credibility deficit.

  1. Media relations is important in times of crisis, but will not get you as far as it used to. When a large-scale crisis hits, you will undoubtedly receive a lot of attention from the media. It may feel like you are the only subject of news for that moment in time – and, you might be. Across all four institutions measured in the Trust Barometer – Business, Government, Media and NGOs – trust in media declined the most. Media is now seen to be politicized, and 64 percent of the general population says they find leaked information more believable than press statements.With this in mind, using your owned channels to directly share information with your key audiences will now carry more weight in a crisis. Results from the Trust Barometer show that 68 percent of respondents find information on a company’s social media more believable than what a company advertises. The most effective way to share your narrative is now connecting directly with audiences.

  1. Re-evaluate your spokesperson as well as third-party relationships. The natural inclination is usually to have the CEO or another executive leader respond to an issue or crisis. After all, the buck stops at the top and someone must take responsibility. While there is still a role for the CEO, consider other people who may be more effective at getting your message across.For the first time ever, “a person like yourself” is now as credible of a source for information about a company as a technical or academic expert. Meanwhile, credibility of CEOs has dipped to an all-time low of 37 percent – a 12-point decline in a single year.

  1. Reaching and swaying critics is harder than ever. In times of crisis, there have been and always will be people whose minds will not be changed no matter what you say or do. However, respondents to the Trust Barometer claim they are four times more likely to ignore information that supports a position they do not believe in.As stated above, many people are already skeptical before a crisis hits. This presents a greater challenge to begin swaying opinion when people are likely making snap judgements without knowing the full picture. Keep this in mind when posting content online – from the headlines you use, where you promote your content, etc.

  1. Consider an inside-out approach to crisis management. One of the most important attributes to building trust starts from the inside – with your employees and treating them well. This goes beyond pay, benefits, and running surveys. Rather, companies need to be deeply listening to and engaging with their workforces to strategically shape the future of their business.The same applies in a crisis – do not forget about your most valuable audience, your people. Given “a person like yourself” is the most credible source of information, start by first communicating with employees and then go out more broadly. In doing so, you may find a better messenger or message than if you didn’t involve them in the process.

Neely Dockins is a senior account supervisor, Digital practice, Washington, D.C.