Trust is back but it is fragile this is the top line from the latest Edelman TrustBarometer.  Perhaps this recovery was to be expected but more remarkable is the continued rise of the Trust within the technology sector which globally rose from it’s previous chart topping 78% to 79%.  This leadership was consistent in local findings with unprecedented ratings in certain markets reaching as high as 93% in the Netherlands and 91% in Italy.  Even more notable was that this leadership is now a clear trend over 4 years.  I have wondered aloud before about why this should be but there are some clues within the data this year and 3 key points strike me as relevant.

  1. The Technology Industry’s Products Help US: There is a powerful assumption that technology companies are Trusted because they help make our lives better if not easier. The data in this year’s Barometer shows that it is the quality of products and services that remains the top driver for trust while innovation slipped it remained in list of key reasons that build trust again this commitment to innovation is central to technology company’s mission.  I believe this quality imperative  also combines with an technology industry commitment to reduce the price of products through innovation.  This may well explain why technology is more trusted than healthcare another industry that clearly helps people but has not as systematically delivered price reductions.  Imagine if the scale of price reductions delivered in the manufacture of PCs was replicated in the government sector.   Better performance for a third of the price within a decade may be the answer to renewing trust in government.
  2. Technology Is A Stakeholder Model: When I rasied this question of why technology was trusted six months ago a number of comments highlighted the structure of industry as a driver for Trust.  Specifically the industry’s need to interact with an ecosystem and take a stakeholder based approach to collaboration from partners to academics and government.   This year’s data shows that it exactly this stakeholder approach that is an engine for Trust.  The chart below shows that the majority of respondents see trust as deriving from a equal treatment of key stakeholders.  Clearly the technology industry has benefited from combining a shareholder approach with a stakeholder approach.
  3. Technology is a future looking Industry: Technology companies have focused on future looking messages and experience suggests that it is this kind of positive story telling that helps build trust. Furthermore technology has kept an optimistic and youthful image it will be interesting if this image can be survive Californian bankruptcy and government challenges.  In the past the key to this success has been the model originating in silicon valley of working with universities, experts and thought leaders to keep predicting and anticipating the future.  Again data from the trust survey shows that working with experts, academics and analysts is the key to trustworthiness today.

I believe that the technology industry has essentially got it’s relationships and stakeholder approach right but this should n’t encourage complacency.   The rebound in trust is clearly fragile and trust has clearly changed.  The elites surveyed are skeptical about whether business really will change and clear that change is needed as shown in the slide below they believe industry will return to it’s old practices.  If the technology industry is to maintain it’s trust dividend then it needs to continue to innovate not just with it’s products but with it’s engagement strategy deepening the stakeholder commitment and treating trust as a key driver of future business.

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To those of you who are reading this in the UK, it should come as very little surprise that our trust in the UK government is on the decline. Notwithstanding the stupidity of the expenses scandal from our parliament, the results of the recent Edelman Trust Barometer shows that the UK are bucking the trend …for the wrong reasons.

Specific UK findings include:

  • 71% don’t trust Gordon Brown and 65% trust him less than six months ago
  • 69% trust Government less than six months ago
  • There is a strong link between trust/distrust in Government, Gordon Brown and MPs in general
  • Three quarters don’t trust financial institutions who have taken bail-out money to use tax-payers’ money responsibly
  • 49% think the country is heading in the wrong direction
  • Only 11% believe that global business has a good reputation
  • 44% don’t expect economic recovery to happen before 2011 at the earliest; 50% think it will take until 2011 or later for business to be trusted again
  • Britons believe that a CEO’s business decisions should consider the interests of employees, customers and communities before those of shareholders or government

For more UK highlights – click here and here (for supplementary Omnibus findings)

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However, what surprised me was that these findings are not universal across the world. Whereas you might expect some more positive outlooks regarding business in the eastern countries (and you’d be right), in the west the US, France and Germany are rebounding – which is in stark contrast to the that in the UK.

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There is already some debate about this in twitterville.

Mike Freer (@leaderlistens), Leader of Barnet Council – and probably one of the best politicians who understand how micro-conversations help (unlike David Cameron) explains, the issue of trust is about being open:

@JonnyBentwood when the Govt won’t come clean about having to balance the books on tax and spending why should people trust politicians.

Sharon Richardson (@joiningdots) agrees – her view is the problems go back to the beginning of the financial crisis:

@JonnyBentwood I think many believe if Gov had let Northern Rock fail other banks might have acted instead of assuming tax-funded bailouts

This debate will no doubt continue for some time yet – get involved in the conversation on twitter by following the hashtag #edeltrust

The full report – and the key data – can be found on our global site, on the FT site here and on Edelman’s UK site here

Jonny Bentwood (@jonnybentwood)