Each year, global PR firm Edelman releases its eagerly awaited Trust Barometer — a report charting the public’s trust in the media, business, government and NGOs across 28 developed countries.

This year’s Trust Barometer, published back in January, showed how public trust in institutions fell significantly in 2016. Which makes sense considering this was the year of Brexit and Trump, phenomena widely interpreted as a rejection of governing elites.

As we look ahead to 2018, here’s a recap on this year’s report and our predictions for next year.

1. Trust is in crisis

Trust in business, media, government and NGOs dropped 3% globally from 2016-17.


Media is at an all-time low, and government is trusted even less. Two-thirds of countries surveyed are now “distrusters”, with under 50% trust. NGOs and Business are trusted more (53% and 52%) than media (43%) and government (41%).

But business can’t afford to rest on its laurels. Trust in business declined in 18 of the 28 countries surveyed. At 52% overall, business is on the brink of distrust.

2. Official sources are suspect

64% of people surveyed said they would trust leaked information over company press statements.


Trust in traditional media has declined while trust in online media has grown. Over the last five years, traditional media dropped from 62% to 57% while online media rose from 46% to 51%.

Significantly, search engines are now the most trusted of all media sources, up 3% from 2012-17 to 64%. People are now far more likely to believe search engines (59%) over human editors (41%).


3. Peers are as credible as experts

For the first time, a “person like yourself” was deemed as credible a source of information as a technical or academic expert (all three at 60%).


Numerous corporate scandals saw the credibility of CEOs plummet 12 points to 37% from 2016-17, while trust in boards of directors dropped 10 points to 35%. 55% of people said that individuals were more believable than institutions.

4. People are afraid of change

A variety of fears (of corruption, globalisation, eroding social values, immigration and the pace of change) played a role in the election of Trump and the Brexit vote: 67% of Trump voters were fearful compared to 45% of Clinton voters; 54% of Leave voters were fearful compared to only 27% of Remain voters.


53% of respondents agree that the pace of change in business and industry is too fast. People worry about losing their jobs due to: lack of training or skills (60%), foreign competitors (60%), immigrants who work for less (58%) jobs moving to cheaper markets (55%) and automation (54%)

5. Business must listen and engage

A fundamental shift occurred in 2016. People voted to reject the authority of institutions and elites. The only way for institutions to regain the people’s trust is to work with them, not for them. This means listening and engaging.

In a business context, listening to customers is considered one of the three most important attributes for building trust in a company (treating employees well and offering high-quality products are the others).


These attributes matter even more to those who believe the system isn’t working. Those who have lost faith in the system expect on average 9% more of business than the general population. So when the system is failing, companies must do more.

This means doing things differently. In identifying a business need, companies must assess it relative to economic and societal fears. Businesses must engage openly with customers and be prepared to listen and learn from them without bias.

What’s in store for 2018

What can we expect from Edelman’s next Trust Barometer?

We can’t be sure, but we can make some educated guesses by looking at what’s been happening this year.

Here are the trends we expect to see in January’s report:

  • Companies putting customers at the heart of their business (and involving them in decision-making)
  • People rejecting traditional media even further and embracing online-only media
  • Social networks and online communities becoming even more powerful, increasing the “echo chamber” phenomenon
  • More sharing through private networks or “dark social” channels such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger
  • More considerate, less intrusive personalisation strategies in retail and marketing
Peers are now just as credible as experts, says Edelman