Why Your Employees are More Trusted than Your CEO

SOURCE:  Global Deck: 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer from Edelman Insights - http://www.edelman.com/insights/intellectual-property/trust-2013/
SOURCE: Global Deck: 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer from Edelman Insights – http://www.edelman.com/insights/intellectual-property/trust-2013/

There’s a gap between the degree of trust we have for institutions versus their leadership,  it’s wider for government than it is for business and it suggests that relying exclusively on CEOs and official spokespeople to hande external communications is a losing strategy.

People trust CEOs and elected leaders less than they do a company’s subject matter experts and regular employees.

Though organizations have grown accustomed to front lining their leadership to inform the public, the research shows this approach is a bad idea. Decentralizing external communications by empowering SMEs and regular employees to serve as brand ambassadors via social media is a much more effective and efficient way to go, which means it’s time to invest in companywide social media training.

In the old days, we media trained our official company spokespeople. Today, we need to social media train the entire workforce.  Company wide digital literacy is the answer.  Here’s why…

On a global basis, 50% trust companies but only 18% trust their leadership to tell the truth. And forty-one percent trust government institutions, but only 13% trust government leaders to tell the truth, according to the 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer report, now in its thirteenth year.

What do they trust leaders to tell the truth about?
When it comes to discussing operational aspects of their organization, like new products and financial performance, leaders scored highest. Thirty-five percent trust what CEOs say about the accomplishments of senior leadership, 34% trust their remarks on financial earnings and operational performance and 31% believe what they say about new product development.

  • In every other area, people trust someone other than the CEO more.
  • When it comes to working conditions, 63% trust a regular company employee versus 21% for CEOs.
  • When it comes to putting customer needs first, 44% trust activist consumers versus 30% for CEOs.
  • When it comes to a company’s situtation in a time of crisis, 35% trust regular company employees versus 30% for CEOs.
  • In the area of environmental stewardship, 35% trust activist consumers versus 22% for CEOs.
  • In the area of corporate social responsibility, 35% trsust activist consumers versus 22% for CEOs.

For every facet of their business except operations, CEOs are not the most trust source information about their company.

Worldwide, we have less trust in CEOs and elected officials than we do in the organizations they preside over.

This is nothing less than a full scale crisis of confidence in leadership, signaling the need for business and government leaders to relinquish their role as sole company mouthpiece and decentralize their external communications apparatus to allow more trusted voices to inform the public. That means when it comes to areas on interest outside of an organization’s operations, leadership needs to encourage regular employees to serve as company spokespeople.

For obvious reasons, social media is the likeliest channel by which organizations will democratize their external communications programs.  But since regular employees aren’t always skilled in external communications, getting them up to speed will require easy to access, cost-effective social media training to ensure all employees understand how to serve as effective representatives and comply with their employer’s social media policy at the same time. For logistical reasons, that training is most likely to be comprised of self-paced, online social media courses that can be accessed anytime, anywhere on any device.

Who Do You Trust?
The most trusted sources of information are experts and peers. Sixty-six percent trust academics, experts or an organization’s subject matter experts. Sixty-five percent trust a person like themselves. Fifty percent trust regular employees and NGO representatives. Forty-six percent trust financial or industry analysts, Thirty-eight percent trust CEOs. And only 29% trust elected officials, making it the lowest score reported.

Furthermore, repetition can overcome skepticism.  Most people (64%) need to hear the same message three to five times before they believe it. Leveraging social media to decentralize external communications increases the likelihood that message repetition will occur.

SOURCE: 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer

Global Deck: 2013 Edelman Trust Barometer from Edelman Insights
Next up, I’ll return back to my analysis of the McKinsey Quarterly article on the six social media skills leaders need most.