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How Business Can Rebuild Trust Role of PRProducing high-quality and reliable products and services is no longer enough. Businesses must build – or rebuild trust – to connect with employees, customers and other stakeholders.

The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals that despite a strong global economy and near full employment, none of the four main institutions — government, business, NGOs and media — is trusted.

Business and non-profits can rebuild trust by working with other institutions and striving to promote social change. The latest Edelman Trust Barometer reveals these key insights about trust:

Trust in China in government and media is far higher than the U.S. The research placed the trust index for China at 82, up from 79 in 2018. The trust index for the US dropped a percentage point to 46.

Local trust is high. Local/state government (54 percent) is more trusted than central/federal government (51 percent). In addition, 69% of respondents trust people in their local community.

Technical experts and academics are most trusted: 68% rated company technical experts as very or extremely credible, and 66% rated academic experts as very or extremely credible.

Trust inequality is growing. The informed public — wealthier, more educated, and frequent consumers of news — remain far more trusting of every institution than the less educated population. In a majority of markets, less than half of the mass population trusts their institutions and more markets show all-time-high gaps between the two groups. PR professionals can concentrate on the communications channels based on who they want to reach.

Inequality drives distrust. In the past, economic growth fostered rising trust. But in developed markets, income equality now is a more important factor.

Economic insecurity harms trust. People worry about job loss due to automation, a looming recession, lack of training, cheaper foreign competition, immigration and the gig economy. “Fears are stifling hope, and long-held assumptions about hard work leading to upward mobility are now invalid,” says Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman.

How Business Can Rebuild Trust

Business, trusted by 58% of respondents, is the most trusted institution. As people become fearful of the future and place little trust in government, more people expect business to lead the way to change. “Business has leapt into the void left by populist and partisan government,” Edelman says.  “It can no longer be business as usual, with an exclusive focus on shareholder returns.”

PR and corporate communications teams have a crucial job to perform to help rebuild trust: Reaching out to various stakeholders to determine their desires, publicizing the corporation’s actions, and measuring stakeholders’ sentiment and reactions to the corporation’s deeds.

Here’s how business can rebuild trust:

  • Advocate for positions that favor the social good, not special interests.
  • Partner with NGOs and governments.
  • Communicate their positions more forcefully.
  • Combat misinformation.
  • Help the under-informed become better informed.
  • Reduce anxiety among employees about job security.
  • Work to reduce inequities in the system.
  • Emphasize ethics and punish unethical behavior.

Bottom Line: Trust in major institutions is falling further due to income inequality and economic fears. However, business enjoys greater trust than other institutions and can take a leading role in rebuilding public trust. PR and corporate communications will have a significant role to play in that endeavor.