What the Edelman Trust Barometer 2018 tells us about stakeholder engagement

Last month (January) saw the global launch of the Edelman Trust Barometer 2018 and it’s full of stakeholder engagement insights.

Released to coincide with the World Economic Forum gathering in Davos, Switzerland, the Edelman Trust Barometer 2018 contains a lot of helpful lessons for those of us working in the world of so-called ‘third rail’ infrastructure development.

In compiling the Trust Barometer, Edelman surveyed over 33,000 people around the world including 3,413 here in the UK.

Headline findings relevant to stakeholder engagement include:

- Trust in institutions remains flat
- Less than a quarter trust social media
- Trust in traditional media has increased

Key lessons for government and developers trying to bring forwards controversial yet critical infrastructure include:

Firstly, with only 36% of Brits saying they trust government, it’s fair to say that if a project appears to have too much support from Whitehall, some stakeholders will immediately be mistrustful of it and the intentions behind it. This is exacerbated by the fact that only 43% of the population say they trust business (down slightly from 45% a year ago). Within businesses, technical experts remain the most credible spokespeople (with 62% of people trusting them), and while only 42% of people say they trust CEO, this is up 14% on 2017. All the same, consider weighting your communications more towards relevant experts rather than always having the CEO up front and centre.

Secondly, don’t rely too heavily on social media channels to communicate with your relevant audiences. According to Edelman, 53% of Brits worry about being exposed to fake news on social media, with 64% of people unable to tell good journalism from rumour of falsehoods. Moreover - and this is important - 42% say they only skim headlines on social media channels but do not click the content, and so it’s important to get your core messages into social posts themselves. In 2016, research carried out for Tesco Mobile in the UK found that the average smartphone user scrolls at a pace of 5.1 miles a year, again highlighting the importance of grabbing attention.

And, thirdly, with trust in traditional media growing, it makes sense to use more of it in your communications mix. However, 33% of Brits reported that they are reading or listening to the news less, with 19% saying they avoid news altogether.

Communication and stakeholder engagement works best when it’s a two-way process and so it’s important to remember that whilst getting your core messages across to your relevant audiences will help to shape their thinking, to build trust you must listen and take on board the feedback you receive from them.

Trust is crucial to gaining local acceptance for development proposals of any kind, but even more so in the case of high profile, contentious infrastructure.