Edelman Trust Barometer Results: It’s CSR Time

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The big conclusion everyone’s drawn from the 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer is that the public’s confidence in both media and government has hit a low point. The most important metric is supposedly a jump in the gap between trust in business and trust in government, and the only three notable countries in which the latter trumps the former are South Korea, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates.

Hold on, though: this doesn’t mean that we’re about to enter some neo-Libtertarian utopia.

The findings can be summed up with three big letters: CSR.

While the public trusts government less than ever before, the same is true of business: a majority of well-educated participants call for more regulation of industry, not less (by a three-to-one margin). As Richard Edelman himself notes in the barometer blog post, a new focus on deregulation “would be a monumental error in judgment.”

People don’t expect business to do things on its own; they want it to work with government and NGOs, and they want responsible business leaders to emerge as voices of reason (in Edelman’s words, “Chief Engagement Officers”). Does this mean more episodes like Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz telling Oprah that it’s OK for men to cry? Maybe. But most people—even in this country—would reward businesses that they see behaving responsibly.

At the same time, confidence in a generic CEO’s messaging skills during crises is shockingly low; in most European countries, the public would trust a random employee over a C-suite executive when it comes to crisis comms.

Edelman’s Ben Boyd tells PRWeek that execs should:

“…engage and empower third parties to speak about the aims and ambitions of their enterprise in a way that is contextualized.”

To offer our own overgeneralization, we see more partnerships forming between businesses, government organizations and especially NGOs, which the American public trusts most despite the fact that those numbers dropped a bit over the past year. A quote we always heard in creative writing class comes to mind:

“Show, don’t tell.”

Words don’t mean much unless they’re backed up by actions, so businesses on the whole an even greater opportunity to demonstrate their own CSR efforts for a public that values two things above all others: transparency and honesty. If you missed last week’s post on the Arthur W. Page whitepaper suggesting that all MBA programs should teach strategic comms, the 2014 Barometer is just further confirmation.

Here are the international results: