Over the past five years, the notion of “truth” has become all too flexible and, as a result, trust has been deeply eroded in every institution. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in government, business, NGOs, and media have all dropped over the course of the last year—reaching all-time lows.
Some specific results from the Trust Barometer which should be alarming to all of us are that 57% of people globally agree: “Our government leaders are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations.” And 56% say the same about CEOs; 59% agreed to the same statement about journalists.
Well over half of the global population does not trust that leaders of any kind are telling the truth. And it’s clear that people are hungry for truth. Politicians are getting caught in lies or corruption, business leaders are being called out for shady practices, and media is being put on notice for having heavily biased reporting. Technology, and in particular video and social media, has enabled this revealing of truths, and there is no turning back now. We have entered the Age of Truth.
With the omnipresence of video recording, we no longer have to rely solely on someone’s word about what happened in any given scenario—it is likely documented. This desire for first-hand information in order to draw our own conclusions is a hallmark of our time.
While transparency and authenticity have long been buzzwords, it is now being demanded that they be the pillars upon which every decision is made. Success in any arena now hinges on the ability to be forthright, honest and truthful.
We have already seen this in business. Label Insight conducted a study which found that 94% of customers are likely to show loyalty to a brand that offers complete transparency. People are eager for the truth and will be quick to pay attention when they get it. Gone are the days of pretty words and interesting ideas being enough—in the Age of Truth, proven and demonstrable facts will reign supreme.
The implications of this are twofold. First, checking in with customers (or readers, or constituents, as the case may be) is more important than ever before. Organizations of all kinds can no longer assume their target audiences feel they are being truthful—they have to be sure they do. They need to understand if their messages are demonstrating transparency and if they are perceived as addressing concerns honestly. Second, and perhaps most importantly, data needs to become more open.
Open data will be critical in this Age of Truth. Individuals don’t just want, but need to be able to check facts for themselves. They need to feel equipped to make decisions based on fact and not conjecture, and to believe their leaders are doing the same. It is a necessary component in rebuilding the trust that has been lost, as it will allow transparency and collaboration. With more data available to anyone and everyone, opinion will start to take a backseat to data, and the truth will be infinitely harder to obscure in any capacity.
Technology once again plays a pivotal role in this shift, enabling data to be shared more freely between parties. Thanks to this ability, we are seeing more organizations shifting towards data democratization, where the data they collect is available to anyone in the company, rather than living just within the Insights department. As data becomes more readily available to every business function, it infuses the organization with a data-driven mindset, rather than one of conjecture or assumption. Decisions at every level are being based on facts, and that is a powerful transformation during this Age of Truth.
Thanks to technology it is also possible to extend this open sharing of data outside of organizations as well. We undertook this endeavor ourselves at Delvinia when we partnered with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health to conduct seven national surveys on the mental health and substance use of Canadians during Covid-19. All of that data was made available, completely free of charge, to anyone who wanted it. We did so because this data was critical to how organizations of all kinds responded to the pandemic. We have had over 1,000 people access the data, from corporate brands to university researchers to government offices to non-profit organizations. They have reliable, quality data with which to make decisions, rather than opinions and assumptions.
There is difficulty in this reliance upon data, though. First and foremost is the security with which the private data of individuals is being handled. If people don’t have confidence in the ways in which their information is being collected, stored and used then collecting it in the first place will become virtually impossible. For too long companies have been quietly using the data in ways unknown, and at times not consented to by their customers. Companies profit off of their “proprietary” data while the individual is left feeling exploited.
Once again, though, technology can be used to combat this challenge. A great example is Measure Protocol, a blockchain-powered marketplace that gives users control of their own data. Measure states that their mission “is to democratize data by giving individuals control over their data in a permissioned and privacy-by-design environment where they are compensated fairly and data buyers, users and society can benefit from clean data of the greatest possible quality.” It is a way of embedding transparency into data collection, and giving individuals the control they need to rebuild trust in the organizations that collect and use their data.
Another issue with the collection of data is that respondents are not always entirely truthful, or can be impacted by other circumstances in the moment of their response. Measure Protocol also attempts to address this issue through blockchain. Another creative solution, however, comes from AI. PersonaPanels is a company that develops virtual consumer panels made up of “Animated Personas.” Animated Personas are AI-models that are trained to mimic the behaviors, responses and evolving interests of real consumers. The Animated Personas don’t have bad days, or feel compelled to hide certain thoughts, feelings or behaviors. While they are primarily used for marketing purposes currently, their potential to help get reliable, honest feedback is immense.
The Age of Truth has been brought on, in many ways, because of advancements in technology. Technology is also what will enable it to reach its full potential and truly transform society. But even if you are not in the technology space, that doesn’t mean you can’t be an important part of this transformation. You can contribute most importantly by looking at your own organization and asking, where can we be more transparent? How can we open up our data in a productive way? If there are areas that feel “unsafe” to be transparent about, examine why, and if practices need to change. If your organization already upholds the tenets of transparency and authenticity, continue to be a leading voice that encourages others to do so as well. Openly share the benefits of being truthful, both for your organization and for your customers. Making truth commonplace again is an important piece of the puzzle that anyone can choose to be a part of. Do not underestimate the power that holds.
I foresee a great deal of upheaval over the coming years as the Age of Truth progresses. Systems that have long been allowed to operate in the shadows will now be under a spotlight. People will continue to demand facts over rhetoric, and the ability to check the data for themselves. Opening up of practices, policies and data will be critical to the future success of any company. The organizations and leaders that do not fulfill the expectations of truth and transparency will fail, and those that embody these values will be the ones to take us into a new world. It will be in this new world that trust is rebuilt and, hopefully, a more equitable and just society is formed.