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Trustworthiness via Transparency

How can a company claim to be sufficiently trustworthy? Probably Richard Edelman, President and CEO of Edelman, the global independent …

How can a company claim to be sufficiently trustworthy? Probably Richard Edelman, President and CEO of Edelman, the global independent PR consulting firm mostly known for its trust barometer ratings has the answer to it. He says if a company has to harp on its trustworthy claims, all it needs to do is be transparent. Admit your follies and be honest on imperfection to achieve trustworthiness, he says. 

In his blog post, titled So you are not perfect” Edelman believes, achieving trustworthiness has to do with admitting imperfection and weaknesses. “Trust is achieved by honest behavior over the long run; if you make a mistake, admit it and get back in the game with a better plan,” he says. 

Last week Edelman teamed up with top thinkers in politics, media and communications theory, including Jeff Berman of MySpace, Chris Kelly of Facebook, Katie Hafner of the New York Times, author Bob Cialdini, as well as Dan Schnur and Tony Blankley of Edelman to discuss the key findings of the 2008 trust barometer report

The panel observed that trust has become an even greater currency than price and quality in the fight for customer, partner and shareholder loyalty, and businesses are more and more focused on how to earn and keep their trust. 

Bob Cialdini, President, Influence At Work, a firm that provides influence-related consulting and training to corporations, government, and non-profit agencies and also Author of “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” feels that by mentioning his/her drawbacks, an effective communicator can establish the credibility. “You establish credibility by admitting weakness. You gain a moment of persuasive power that opens the listener to really hear the best feature of your argument.” 

Both Chris Kelly Chief Privacy Officer, Facebook, Inc and Jeff Berman, SVP MySpace feel that it is crucial to disclose actual identities at the social networking sites, to gain public trust and confidence. Citing an example of the current presidential nomination campaign, Berman pointed out that the Obama campaign’s approach to phone banks is more authentic– “young Obama supporters are asked to call up their friends and tell them why they are supporting the candidate; no more cold calls or taped robo-calls.” 

The panel discussion moderated by Katie Hafner, an expert commentator on technology and society with NY Times, pondered on whether companies were being transparent enough to be hailed as the trustworthy entities, Edelman feels they are. “I believe the answer is increasingly they are because it is both smart and necessary. Back in 8th grade after I threw an interception that was run back for a touchdown, my football coach told me “Get back out there and throw another pass. But don’t look at your receiver the whole time so everybody on the other team knows what’s coming.” 

Meanwhile, the ninth annual Edelman Trust Barometer indicated that the trust in business was higher than in government in 14 of 18 countries. United States is experiencing the widest divide between business and government in the survey’s nine-year history, with 58% saying they trust business to do what’s right, an all-time survey high, compared with only 39% for government. The gap between business entities and government’s credibility is also especially wide in developing nations like India, Mexico, and Poland, the report said. 

Interestingly, this year’s study, which included – for the first time – 25-to-34 year old opinion leaders in 12 countries, sampled concurrently with the 35-to-64-year-old group in 18 countries. The study found that young elites tend to trust more in business than the older cohort.

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