CEOs regain role as trusted spokespersons
The 2011 Edelman Trust Barometer unveiled some surprising shifts regarding who we rely on for credible company information. After several years of looking to peers in social networks for trusted corporate information, the pendulum of trust is swinging back toward CEOs.
According to the survey, CEOs now rank among the top credible spokespeople globally – a striking reversal from two years ago when they were in the bottom two. Conversely, “a person like me” dropped four points globally since 2009, replacing CEOs in the bottom rungs. Perhaps more surprisingly, trust amongst peers as spokespersons has dropped precipitously among 35-46 year olds since 2006 (68 percent to 31 percent).
Wait – how did this happen? Since when do we as red-blooded American Tweeters and Jersey Shore voyeurs come to value the words of corporate CEOs over our Facebook network?
Maybe we’ve started to crave more meaningful information from our online networks. Steve Rubel of Edelman Digital shed some light on the results in a recent blog post, and I share his sentiment:
As more of us join social networks, there’s been devaluation in the entire concept of “friendship.” A separate survey found that people don’t know 20 percent of their Facebook friends. Consider that “unfriend” was Oxford’s word of the year for 2009.
The fact is, CEOs and corporate spokespersons have had to change the way they communicate to earn trust in today’s digital age. Transparency and accessibility are more important than ever before. In fact, about 90 percent of those surveyed want to hear CEOs communicate transparently (there it is again) and frequently during a crisis, and want to hear about efforts to protect customers and employees. Gone are the days when CEOs could hide behind a corporate veil of carefully controlled messaging.
For those of you hoping to abandon the social media ship and return to traditional PR outreach, I have some bad news. While people want to hear from your CEO, they also want to access information about your company from a variety of news sources and search engines, some you can’t control, and some you can. We’ve learned a lot about how to respond, track and create networks online that help us deliver company news while engaging customers and target audiences. Consumers want to be active participants in the discussion, and this is not likely to change anytime soon.
The report finds that repetition and consistency across a number is the key, but only if you’ve established a relationship with consumers. Companies that ignore angry customers or clients online do so at their peril: according to survey, positive information must be seen 4-5 times before it’s accepted as truth, while negative information about a distrusted company is believed after only 1-2 repetitions.
Here’s a very simple graphic that demonstrates how the model of trust as shifted over the years.
Today, transparency is the foundation that trust is built on. As corporate communicators, our challenge is not only to earn it, but keep it.