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Research16 February 2021

Edelman Trust Barometer 2021 – who do we trust after the first year with the pandemic?

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This year’s “Edelman Trust Barometer” report was released a few weeks ago. The Edelman company, advising in the field of communication and PR, has been developing this recognized research continuously for 21 years on the basis of tens of thousands of respondents from nearly 30 countries (including Poland, but only until 2019) in order to study changes in our attitudes and the flow of social trust. This is one of those studies worth paying attention to and I personally know some very large companies that analyze it. All the more, I encourage you to read the entire list, which illustrates the global state of our trust in the most important institutions after a year in which the whole world had to face a pandemic, and our trust was put to a great test. Many of the results may be pretty surprising. Below are some of the responses that interested me the most and which I would like to highlight first. They describe five areas: trust in institutions, trust in the media and information hygiene, pandemic and work automation, leadership 2.0 and trust in individual market sectors.

Out of the four analyzed types of institutions, only business in the pandemic year recorded an increase in trust (by 2% vs. 2020). The respondents indicated that they trust enterprises more than governments, the media and even non-governmental organizations. This is a considerable credit of trust for this sector, which is related to the expectation that social activities of enterprises during a pandemic will not turn out to be incidental and will be continued in the coming years.

What is equally interesting, and at the same time related to the above chart, in this year’s survey respondents perceive business as the most competent and ethical of the 4 analyzed institutions. Platforms that monitor their actions and commitment will help hold companies accountable for their promises and actions

Another important area analyzed in the Edelman report concerns the sources from which we obtain information. Unfortunately, the results for 2020 do not bring us positive news in this regard. All major sources of information have severely diminished our confidence, both traditional and digital. Moreover, the level of declines is the highest since 2012, since this indicator was first measured. The phenomenon of infodemia gained momentum in 2020, and its rapid development was noticed in two phases of the pandemic: during the first wave, and more specifically during the global spread of the virus, and at the end of the year, when the first pharmaceutical companies announced that they had created an effective vaccine for SARS- CoV-2, and supporters of conspiracy theories about the potentially harmful consequences of its operation began to come to the fore.

Hand in hand with low trust in the main sources of knowledge is low information hygiene. Only 1 in 4 respondents say they make sure that the information they provide is reliable and based on facts. Therefore, we are dealing with a vicious circle that is very unfavorable from the perspective of building a well-informed society: we do not trust what we hear and read, on the other hand, we do not explore our knowledge, we do not verify information, we often duplicate unverified messages by making them available to other users in digital media. Finally, we are not sure about the information that we supply to our system of perception of the world, but we lack the time or the willingness to increase this certainty by improving the aforementioned information hygiene.

The study also shows that people are concerned about the pandemic’s acceleration of automation and robotization. More than half of the respondents agree with the statement that as a result of the pandemic, some of their working hours were reduced or they lost their jobs. An even greater percentage of respondents are worried that the pandemic will accelerate the process of reducing workers in favor of robots and artificial intelligence solutions in their current jobs.

Nevertheless, an important slide that I chose to compile concerns companies’ CEOs and building leadership based on social issues and the challenges our society faces on a global scale . As many as 86% of respondents expect company presidents to publicly and systematically take a position on at least one such issue. It is worth adding here that transparent activities of companies and responsible practices are the second factor in the ranking (right after guarding the quality of information sent to the world), which is able to increase public trust in the company. In this case, it translates into an increased probability of increasing the confidence of the respondents in the company by 5.7%

Finally, an analysis of how trust affects individual business sectors in the long term. Although we still trust in the development of technology, the value of this indicator in Edelman’s study has decreased by as much as 9 points over the last 10 years. The automotive industry is also losing (-3 points). The financial industry and the energy market have gained the most of our trust in the last decade (+8 and +5 points respectively). 

Source: Edelman Trust Barometer 2021.
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