Looking at Edelman’s annual Trust Barometer, two things stand out.
Firstly, in the UK levels of trust are 17% higher for the informed public (15% of the population), than the masses (the other 85%). Secondly, and in a complete role reversal, it’s the masses that hold all the influence.
This suggests businesses are miss-directing their efforts when it comes to building trust. Sadly, many business leaders still care more about what’s in the FT than what customers and prospects are saying about their businesses.
Trust is important because it affects a consumer’s likelihood to buy products, make recommendations or share positive opinions online. It matters because it can be the difference between commercial success and failure.
In the (good?) old days, the informed public (the 15%) held authority and influence. These people are university educated, in the top 25% of household incomes and read the broadsheets.
Today, the model of influence has turned upside-down. Thanks largely to social media, the masses hold all the influence. Since this is a week of democratic significance, let’s celebrate this fact. It’s both good and appropriate that the majority of the population holds the majority of influence on matters of trust.
So what does this ‘correction’ in influence over trust mean for PR?
Well, one thing that hasn’t changed is that conversation matters. Conversation must always be the objective. And what drives conversation? Great stories. Memorable, repeatable, shareable stories that get the right people talking whether they are at home, work or play.
PR must make sure it gets the right people talking. It must recognise that influence has passed from the informed public. It must think about the conversations and stories that work for the masses.
Let’s be honest. The FT does matter. It just doesn’t matter in the way we think it does. It will always be interesting and important to its readers, and to the people wanting to sell to them, and influence them.
But it doesn’t matter to the masses and they are the people who dictate the trust in your brand, and the commercial success of your business.
The issue of trust is a live one as I reflect on the referendum campaign. It appears as if the informed public’s interest in economics is playing the mass-appeal issue of immigration. Regardless of the result, I wonder if history will suggest that ‘Stronger In’ failed to leverage this inversion of influence to its advantage? As for the result, I hope we take the decision to lead Europe, note leave Europe.