Trust drops but role for tech for good

Written by Julian Blake, Editor at DigitalAgenda

The past year has seen an almost universal decline in public trust for social media platforms – with a plummeting of trust in tech business on data protection and transparency. But Edelman – which carried out the research – says there is an opportunity for tech business to respond to ‘belief-driven’ buying.

The stark new findings on trust were presented by Mark McGinn, director of brand and social purpose at communications and marketing agency Edelman, at DigitalAgenda’s Power & Responsibility Summit, held in London last week – where trust played a major part in the discussions.

McGinn drew the findings from Edelman’s 2018 ‘trust barometer’ and this month’s Edelman ‘earned brand’ research. Combined, the research drew on the opinions of 73,000 people living and working in 28 markets worldwide.

McGinn said technology remained the most trusted business sector, above healthcare, energy and food. But he said public trust was “in transition”, facing nothing short of a crisis, with “a global battle for the truth itself”. That battle for the truth was prompted by the worry by seven in 10 people about false information or fake news being used as a weapon through social media.

“Technology holds a great privileged position of trust amongst the general public,” said McGinn. “But we are also seeing technology losing significant ground. With the crisis of hacks, leaks, hacked accounts that’s probably no great surprise, but an 18-point drop is very significant,” he said.

“In effect technology is no longer building trust. It’s kind of living on its legacy and needs to start demonstrating how it can prove itself trustworthy,” added McGinn.

01markmcginn600The Edelman research looks at four key sectors of NGOs, business, government and media. Worryingly for media, said McGinn, it is now “the least trusted institution”, distrusted in 22 out of 28 markets. However, that distrust is focussed on social platforms, rather than on journalism, where trust has rebounded.

McGinn said trust in platforms has decreased in 21 of 28 countries – particularly worrying as nearly two thirds of those surveyed receive news through platforms such as social media feeds, search or news applications. Of the 28 countries, the US has seen the steepest decline in trust in platforms, said McGinn.

Despite the tech industry remaining trusted, trust in technology has declined in 18 of 28 markets, he added. In the UK, trust has dropped 5%. Informed public trust in tech has seen steep falls in 16 markets, including a 19% fall in the US.

Despite the stark headlines, McGinn said the surveys showed some reason for optimism. Business generally was expected to lead, with 64% saying that company chief executives should take the lead on change rather than waiting for government to impose it.

In what was perhaps the biggest shift of all in trust, McGinn said more than half of consumers were now driven by beliefs – with 57% now choosing, switching, avoiding or boycotting a brand based on its stand on societal issues. That figure was up 20% on 2017.

‘Belief-driven buying’ was now mainstream around the world, said McGinn, and that mindset now spanned generations and income levels. “Welcome to the new brand democracy,” declared McGinn as he reported that 39% of people agree that brands have better ideas for solving our country’s problems than government, and 47% think brands can do more to solve social ills than government.

Perhaps above all for those driven by profit, a brand’s ‘stand’ on issues drives purchase intent, he said, event more in cases that the features of a brand’s products.

“Define your purpose – take your stand,” concluded McGinn – stressing that belief-driven buying is now a mainstream mindset across ages and incomes, and that people believe brands can lead societal change.

“We have walked into a new place that says ‘welcome to brand democracy’,” said McGinn. “We have consumers who are telling companies that they believe they are a powerful force for change. They have consumers telling companies ‘I expect you to represent me in societal issues’. And there are people who are telling those same businesses ‘I will reward you; my vote will be my wallet, I will spend my time and my money with you for doing so’.

“There is a role to be played for the tech for good out there to help answer some of those big problems we want to talk about,” he said.

“If you haven’t yet embraced this, listen carefully to the issues that people are raising and their concerns about where we are, the world we are building particularly from a technology perspective and understand and define your purpose in how you can address some of those and take a stand,’ said McGinn, “because you will be rewarded and you will have a stronger enterprise from it.”

View Mark McGinn’s Power & Responsibility Summit presentation for Edelman.

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