A Hack’s Key Takeaways From The 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer (and how they apply to you and your business)

Businessman Brainstorming About Trust

The hack is me. Please: don’t get offended on my behalf. After all, my status as a hack allows me to pore over the information and stats in the latest Edelman Trust Barometer without vested interest. It also means that instead of being all serious and cerebral like, I can read it while wrapped in a blanket eating Starbursts and exclaiming “Whoa!” every couple of minutes.

Where I am not a hack is in my attitude towards trust. It is uncompromising, and I most definitely have a vested interest. My work has many paths, but they lead to the same destination: trust and connection. I am even cranking away in the background, writing a book about trust. So when this year’s Barometer was released a couple of weeks ago, I Buffered it with the words, “If you don’t know what [the Edelman Trust Barometer] is, really: stop faffing around”. If you’re not educating yourself on trust, you’re faffing. And if you think that trust is a fluffy and irrelevant concept, as Mike Lowe said of some leaders in his recent LinkedIn article, you’re a fool. Like I said: uncompromising.

Trust is, as trust authority Glen L. Urban once told me, currency. And if it isn’t for you, then it should be: predictions are that trust is fast becoming the biggest differentiator and therefore predictor of success and longevity. And this year’s Trust Barometer confirms that trusted businesses are rewarded: people buy more from them, pay more for those products and services, recommend them, share positive reviews of them online, defend them, and even buy shares in them.

Still: this year’s Barometer makes sobering reading. Edelman calls 2015 “The evaporation of trust”, with trust in the four institutions of business, NGOs, government, and media declining around the world. The number of trusting people is at an all-time (or at least, Edelman-time) low. Whoa, right?

There’s more: 60% of countries distrust media. By rather a huge margin, the most trusted source for general news and information – and the one people turn to first – is now the search engine. This is massive news for those of us actively engaged in getting informational content out into the world; it is a massive opportunity, but one that comes with massive responsibility. Crap content will not do, or the tide of trust will surely turn against us as it has against traditional media. Anyone tempted to put out crap content should look to traditional media as the cautionary dinosaur.

My next takeaways involve what the Barometer calls the key attributes of building trust, and they are possibly the most important takeaways from this year’s study.

There are 16 key attributes, grouped under five performance clusters. The most important are integrity and engagement. Excellent products and services are – shrug – only what the market expects these days, no less, and they’re not enough to create trust any more. If you’re going to be trusted, you had better make sure you have integrity, and that you engage, right? Except that businesses aren’t. These are the highest priorities for people, and yet businesses are under-performing in both of them. So the biggest opportunity for business in 2015 is building trust through integrity and engagement.


Edelman proposes a three-step course of action:

  1. Solve
  2. Behave
  3. Engage

Solve reveals something hopeful and heartening about where the human race is headed: it’s no longer enough for institutions to make or provide profit. We are now asking that they actively engage in helping solve the world’s problems, and that their products and services contribute to the social good.

Behave is linked to leadership, culture, and conduct, and their ability to facilitate the kind of behaviour that earns and maintains trust.

Engage is, as always, about communication: creating a continuous, meaningful dialogue, sharing information, collaborating, listening, being transparent, and sharing stories that connect, reach, and touch.

Simple. Elegant. Something that even a hack wrapped in a blanket can appreciate and implement. Will you?