AB Thinks  →  15th January 2021

In a world of mistrust, employer media is most believed

Internal communicators, it’s time to shine. In a world where so many news sources are disbelieved, ‘employer media’ has become the most trusted source of information.

This is a clear and crucial finding from the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer. For more than 20 years, this survey of 33,000 people in 28 countries has been tracking a decline in the credibility and trust of major institutions worldwide – governments, NGOs, traditional media and business.

Trust in news and media sources is at a record low. A striking 61% of respondents say the media is not doing well at being objective and non-partisan.

“This is the era of information bankruptcy,” said CEO Richard Edelman. “We’ve been lied to by those in charge, and media sources are seen as politicized and bias. The result is a lack of quality information and increased divisiveness.”

As faith in mainstream news and government officials decline, we are turning to more local sources of information. ‘My employer’ is seen by 61% of respondents as a trusted and credible source of information, ahead of communication from national governments (58%), traditional media (57%) and social media (39%).

The survey goes one step further – not only are employers most believed, but the biggest opportunity for businesses to earn our trust is to safeguard information quality. This task is seen as paramount by respondents who put it ahead of embracing sustainable practices, having a robust COVID-19 response and driving economic prosperity.

If, as a society, we are looking to employers to be the guardians and defenders of truth, this casts internal communication professionals in a new light.

We have always known effective communication drives superior organisational performance. But now it seems, we have a role to play in helping our workforces sort fact from fiction about a far broader range of issues.

As traditional spokespeople, such as journalists and government officials, continue to lose credibility, company technical experts now top the list of believable spokespeople, along with academics.

There are also new demands on senior leaders. More than 8 in 10 want chief executives to speak out on important issues. “There is a void in leadership that CEOs must fill,” said Dave Samson, Edelman’s vice chairman of corporate affairs. “It starts with a broader mandate for business that focuses societal engagement with the same rigor used to deliver on profits.”

If internal communication practitioners have ever felt they needed a licence to operate, surely this is it. It is time for us to step forward with confidence and authority. We have a unique and important role conveying credible, quality information to our workforces at time when too many others are distrusted and disbelieved.

Implications of the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer

  • What issues – both internal and external – matter most to your employees? Are you addressing topics they reallycare about? If you’re not sure, now is the time to ask. Effective communication starts with listening.
  • Know your company technical experts, not just industry-specific specialists, but those in functional roles, such as HR, health and safety and finance. What insight and thought leadership can you credibly share with your employees and wider community, which will be genuinely valued?
  • If your CEO steps up to the plate, it should be on an issue close to their heart. When I interviewed Adrienne Kelbie, CEO at the Office of Nuclear Regulation, on The Internal Comms Podcast her passion for equality and diversity was undeniably real. Similarly, my conversation with Marc Barone, CEO for continental Europe at AECOM left me in no doubt that his commitment to sustainable business practices was personal. Phoney advocacy has a hollow ring and does more harm than good.
  • Internal comms advisers must not waste this valuable opportunity to inform, inspire and connect. Now is the time to leave corporate monologues and broadcast announcements behind. And don’t rely on cascades. Do what other news sources seemingly cannot – have meaningful, authentic conversations with people, which they will trust and value. For ways to foster productive dialogue inside your organisation, take a look at my book From Cascade to Conversation – Unlocking the Collective Wisdom of Your Workforce.
  • Protect your position as a trusted source of truth. Check your facts, be sensitive, handle confidential information with care and, as ever, strive for openness and honesty. Continue to uphold the standards on which this bedrock of trust is built.
  • And finally, hold your head high. Don’t hide your light under a bushel. Your internal comms plan should be confidently bold and ambitious. People are placing their trust in you – make it count!