Do we trust? What does the research say?

Trust.  Now there is a word.

Trust.  Who do you trust?  At work?  At home?  As a consumer?  As a person?  Who do you trust?

Trust is an area of interest that has had an interesting evolution.  Over the last decade or so, people and researchers have come to have a fascination with trust, and for good reason.  As people have become more connected and more knowledgeable, they have become more skeptical.   The question is why?  Why are people, regardless of where you are or what socioeconomic background that you have, just not as trusting as they used to be?

Even employers are doing research to understand how they need to communicate with their employees because of this very issue.  IBM for example, carried out a survey in 1997 and then again in 2003 looking at what the most trusted communication tools they had for their employees.  The results are interesting.  News media and employee’s immediate managers were two areas for example that took a big hit between 1997 and 2003.  Employees just did not have the same level of trust when it came to these sources.  On the other hand, executive letters and the company Intranet became the most trusted source in 2003.  Flash forward to 2008 however, and you see yet another picture.  The BlessingWhite Employee Engagement Report 2008 reports that only 53% of employees trust their organization’s senior leaders- not their managers, but the organization’s senior leaders.  In North America only 75% of respondents trust their immediate manager, slightly down from the 2006 report which showed that 79% trusted their managers. (This report is available at

Let’s look at the consumer side of things.  According to research and Erik Qualman, a marketing expert, 14% of consumers trust advertisements whereas 78% trust peer recommendations.

Why do we see a trend that shows employees and consumers becoming less trusting?

I may be overs simplifying things, but I believe it comes down to the history of control.  Companies, through their marketing and communications teams have traditionally had the control.  They created the message, the timing of the delivery and they held the purse strings.  In other words, they could embark on “campaigns”.  As an employee or a consumer, what could we do?
Enter Social Media.  With mobile devices that can upload stories and images in seconds, a different story could emerge and a conversation could start.  Control eroded as did trust.

In my next posting, I will continue on this theme of trust and explore trust from the employer perspective.

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