We Now Trust CEOs More Than “Folks Like Me,” but the U.S. Is Low on Trust

Edelman’s just released its latest survey of global “trust” measurements among consumers, and found a couple of trends of our age: Banks are out, tech is in, CEOs are trustable and the U.S. really doesn’t trust anyone or anything.

Edeleman trust graph


Edelman’s just released its latest survey, or barometer, of global “trust” measurements among consumers, and found a couple of trends of our age: Old news industry is out, tech is in, CEOs are trustable, and the U.S. really doesn’t trust anyone or anything.

Edelman styles itself as the “world’s largest public relations firm,” with a global footprint, so one may think its research into levels of public “trust” are pretty trustable–they did speak to over 5,000 people too, and it’s the eleventh time they’ve done it. We’ve dug among the stats, and pulled out some of the most interesting findings for you, representing some sense of the zeitgeist.

We trust CEOs a lot more nowadays

While financial, technical, and academic experts retain their trustworthiness in Edelman’s data, as you may imagine they would (being long-standing roles the public is very familiar with) the notable changes between 2009 and 2011 are persons “like yourself” and “CEOs.”

The CEO trust index has risen so much it’s seen the category hop from sixth place to fourth place in the most-trustable list. Considering that the antics of big-company CEOs are more typically relegated to the financial pages of a newspaper (the part you may rarely flick to, if you’re a typical man in the street) unless they’ve done something terrible enough to merit attention in the “news” portions of the paper, this is pretty surprising. This may be a reflection of the changes in the news publishing industry itself, with more “jumbled” news stories presented in online media than traditional texts. But it’s also likely thanks to high-profile charismatic CEOs like Richard Branson and Steve Jobs, and perhaps even Tesla’s Elon Musk–these characters seem to challenge the stodgy old company norms, and promise better customer experiences

Meanwhile, the downward trend in trust in “people like me” is fascinating. Is it Facebook’s fault, as Edelman intimates, with the ease of “friending” so many people actually devaluing the concept of “friend”? Or is it merely that we’re being exposed to so many friends opinions, reinforcing the notion that everyone really does have different thoughts about stuff? Either way, it’s worrying news for friend-based recommendation engines.


Old news publishing industry beaten by online sources and search engines

Search engines rank first “as the place people go first for information about a company, followed by online news sources” Edelman notes. People are familiar with, and trust, online news sources first nowadays–and only after these do they trust traditional print and broadcast news and info sources.

The story isn’t all bad for traditional media, however, as for secondary info about a topic the public does turn to them…albeit after looking at online news sources. These sites do include the online version of traditional newspapers, so that’s a good thing.

But this data proves for sure the future of news is online, via traditional computers or through smartphones or tablets. And it casts doubt on the policy of locking away news content behind a paywall–particularly since the primary source of news info is a search engine.

The U.S. doesn’t trust much


By measuring trust in “institutions,” Edleman’s research highlights how much the public trust the infrastructure of our society across NGOs, government, business, and media sectors. The U.S. historic chart ably demonstrates the dip in institution trust in 2009 caused by the economic crisis, and the subsequent recovery, but since January 2010 U.S. public trust in institutions has declined almost as much as it did in 2009–much more so for media, which slipped from 38% in 2010 to just 27% in 2011.

Worse than this, the U.S. was the only nation in the global survey to show a decline in trust in all four institutional categories. Other nations showed gains and losses for different institutions … but the U.S. seems to have suffered the biggest slump in trust. Looking over four years, the overall trust index for the U.S. has slumped. Edelman suggests it could be the “prolonged fighting between business and government, unemployment rate–not the full recovery the country expected” and the nation’s role as the “epicenter” of many headline crises in 2010–including the Gulf oil spill.

Definitely something to think about, if you’re one of those now-more-trustable big-name CEOs.

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About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise. I've also got a PhD, and worked in such roles as professional scientist and theater technician...thankfully avoiding jobs like bodyguard and chicken shed-cleaner (bonus points if you get that reference!)