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Reputation Management & Trust: It’s Your Time to Shine

We love working with trustworthy firms and helping them earn the recognition of trust from stakeholders. Now may be the perfect time to assess your own trust assets, because trust is in trouble.

PR powerhouse Edelman recently released its annual Trust Barometer. It should come as no surprise: the outlook isn’t good.

“Despite a strong global economy and near full employment, none of the four societal institutions that the study measures—government, business, NGOs and media—is trusted,” the study finds.

While it is easy to look to international scandals, politics, fake news and the constant berating of news media and say…duh! The issues affecting trust are not someone else’s problem. Every business, government, nonprofit and media representative might pause and reflect on the problem.

What’s your organization’s trust barometer showing?

According to the study, competence and ethics drive trust. Do you have the ability and dependability to do what you say you are going to do? Can you fulfill your brand promise — or is it so aspirational that your stakeholders fail to believe it?

How are you demonstrating your honesty, integrity and sense of purpose? And does it connect with your stakeholders?

Trust is subjective – built on beliefs and attitudes. Right now, economic inequity and fear drive public sentiment. According to the 2020 Edelman study, 83% of people fear losing their jobs or livelihood and 60% fear the pace of technological change.

In Tom Friedman’s book, Thank You for Being Late, he proposes that the pace of technological change is outpacing human ability to keep up with change — so there may be reason to fear. The growing digital divide, rising costs of education and healthcare, and wage disparity all degrade public trust.

A silver lining

There is a silver lining: hope in community collaboration and collective action still exists.

According to the study, three groups — scientists, members of our communities, and citizens of my country — earned trust from a majority of respondents. In other words, we trust each other. Edelman calls it horizontal influence: 69% of respondents trust their community to solve local issues.

At CEL, we passionately commit to the betterment of business, families and communities. We’ve seen the collective power of communities to improve health and well-being, lead innovation in our schools, and advance education to break the cycle of poverty. Of course, some of the challenges we face are global issues, but we can start solving them on a local scale. After all, every significant disruption started with a small pilot: prototyped, tested and eventually scaled.

Where to start

Focus and engage with your most important audiences first: employees, customers, communities, partners and shareholders.
Invest in employee training.
Invest in community partnerships.
Invest in being a responsible corporate citizen.

All these translate to investment in building trust.

“Stakeholders are more important than stockholders,” Edelman finds. We recommend four strategies for building trust.

1. Customer Experience

Articulate your commitment to ethical actions and positive customer experiences. If you haven’t updated your core values, brand promise, or code of ethics, it’s time. Walk in the shoes of your stakeholders, evaluate and enhance the customer experience. We can help with intentional listening strategies.

2. Thought Leadership

Demonstrate your competence by speaking out on issues, trends, or innovations in your industry. Thought leadership may take the form of authored articles, videos, or speaking engagements. (And, you need not be THE industry leader to present a unique insight.) Or it may be seeking independent third-party validation of your credentials. Let’s connect to identify the tools and channels to reach your stakeholders effectively. It’s time to assert yourself as a trusted voice.

3. Partnerships

Seek trusted partners in your community to begin addressing pressing problems, in a way that intersects with your business or nonprofit objectives. [Feel free to call us for a consultation about strategic partnerships.]

4. Storytelling

Share your story. It isn’t very easy to build trust without communicating — and you can do it humbly and authentically. We have to say, this is our sweet spot. With today’s skepticism, it’s not all about marketing promotion. Connecting with and inspiring others to join in your work builds lasting relationships with stakeholders.

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“Early in my career, I learned there are four critical steps to positive PR,” our Vice President Janet Swiecichowski, APR, Fellow PRSA remembers. “Number one: Do a good job in your industry sector. Number two: Do a good a job. Number three: Do a good job. And four: tell people about it.” Timeless advice. We build trust by keeping stakeholders well informed.

Ironically, according to Edelman’s 20-year study, trust is at an all-time high among INFORMED publics for all four institutions — government, business, NGOs and media. But the gap between the informed public and the mass population has tripled, crippling trust overall. We need to expand the circle of informed stakeholders.

Let’s commit to communicating truthfully, acting with integrity and rebuilding the public trust together.

What strategies do you recommend for building trust with stakeholders? We’re eager to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Published on: January 29, 2020