For the past 19 years, the Edelman Trust Barometer has been published annually. The barometer measures levels of trust in institutions like government, business, media and NGOs among populations globally. The annual report is based on an online survey in 27 markets with more than 33,000 respondents in total.
Over its lifetime, the report has identified key shifts in the public’s thinking and attitudes towards trust. In 2005, for example, the annual report noted a shift in trust “from authorities to peers”, noting the impact the internet was starting to have on the sharing of information, transparency and verification processes. The following year, 2006, the report noted the emergence of “a person like me” as a credible figure of trust.
In keeping with the tenor of the times, in 2013, the report noted a “crisis in leadership” and then in 2017 it was trust itself that was in crisis. This was followed in 2018 by “the battle for truth”.
This year, the main theme of the report was “trust at work”, especially the nature of the employer-employee relationship. A significant aspect of this year’s report was that women have become increasingly less trusting of major institutions while at the same time they have become increasingly engaged as news amplifiers.
The Trust Index – which is the overall aggregated result for trust in institutions – found that globally 55% of men and 50% of women trusted institutions. Globally, the best trusted institution among men was business, with 60% of men expressing positive sentiment; among women the best trusted institution was NGOs, with 55% expressing positive sentiment. Both men (50%) and women (45%) least trusted the media.
The figures for Australia showed generally lower levels of trust than globally. The overall Trust Index for men in Australia was 51% and for women 45%. Both men (60%) and women (52%) had most trust in NGOs and the least in the media (men 42%, women 38%).
In an analysis of the 2019 report, Lisa Kimmel, the chair and CEO of Edelman Canada and the global chair of Edelman's Global Women's Equality Network, noted the significant gap in trust scores in comparisons between men and women:
In nearly every market surveyed, from the U.S. to the UAE, women trust less than men. Women in Germany and the U.S. cite higher levels of distrust with 12- and 11-point gaps, respectively. The data also revealed that the largest trust gap between men and women globally is in business, placing a great deal of importance on the employer-employee relationship.
Kimmel goes on to note a very interesting insight into low levels of trust in media and the role of women as news ‘amplifiers’.
This year revealed a 22-point jump in news engagement among women. This is a profound shift. We now consider more than one-in-three women as amplifiers of the media (those who share and consume news weekly and share and post content at least once per month)—a lift of 15 points. This means they aren’t just consuming the news, but are actively adding to the conversation in ever-greater numbers. Women are sharing stories, debating topics and spotlighting issues that matter to them.
So even though women appear to be more cynical about news and the media in general, they are becoming more engaged as news consumers and more active in sharing news and views across their networks.
This trend is even more pronounced among what Edelman label as the ‘informed public’ – which it defines as aged 25-64; university-educated; in the top 25% of household income per age group in each market; and report significant media consumption and engagement in public policy and business news. This group represents around 16% of the global population, according to Edelman.
Women in the ‘informed public’ category recorded a massive spike in engagement as amplifiers over the past year, going from 34% to 57% now consuming news about weekly or more AND sharing or posting content several times a month or more. The report cites issues such as #MeToo and equal pay campaigns as being key drivers of this rise in engagement and activity.
To quote Kimmel again:
Building brands women trust — and want to buy from, work for and engage with — is hard work, but the upside for business is real. Last year, women are estimated to have controlled about $40 trillion in consumer spending across the world. And the most gender-diverse executive teams were more likely to have above-average profitability than the least diverse companies by 21 percent.
The decline in women’s trust in institutions like the traditional media is entirely understandable when seen through the lens of something like #MeToo. Sexual harassment has been an open secret for decades and the media never really did anything about it until some women started to share their stories on social media. More broadly, and excuse the language, women are calling out all the big institutions on their shit now. They are making their voices heard and demanding better from businesses, media, government and other major organisations.
However, women talk to and listen to each other, especially to women they respect, admire and find credible. That’s why many women have been able to build strong independent media platforms through blogging and other social media activities, often bypassing traditional media. It’s why women are looking to other women as figures of trust.
At TFSN, we believe our Effective Opinion Leaders can do an important job as trust builders. Our EOLs are far more than ‘influencers’; they have been identified by our unique profiling process as women who score highly on measures like authority, credibility, engagement and network centrality. That’s why our EOLs work with brands to create better trust and engagement between brands and consumers. We’re also looking at potential partnerships with governments and NGOs where EOLs can help develop and deliver key messages of relevance to women.
With the internet and social media, we’ve seen a major shift in how content is delivered and shared. Women are playing a major role in how the new paradigms of trust are being configured. Fuelled by distrust and anger, women are turning away from the old sources of trust and finding it among other women in their own networks. Governments, businesses and other major institutions need to take note of this profound shift if they want to effectively engage with women.