Who do you trust most? Your doctor? Your significant other? Your parents? Probably. Your bank? Big business? Government? Well, if the last ‘Trust Barometer’ from Edelman is to be believed probably not, as it revealed that in the UK there is now less than 50 percent trust in the mainstream institutions of business, Government, media and NGOs to do the right thing.
We are all distrusters now
So what you might say and there is certainly an argument that some scepticism in the claims and counterclaims we see banded around in political sounds bites, adverts and consultations is no bad thing.
My personal ‘favourite’ target for scepticism is the surveys used to sell expensive beauty products, where a whole 78% of a sample size of 58 found this product worked for them. I mean, who comes up with a sample size of 58 and then uses the results as a major plank of their pitch?
Hearing v listening
However, if we tip too far and become serial distrusters then this is a major problem for those who work in communications and engagement. Sure, people might hear what you are saying, but are they going to listen? Simply put, how can you talk to residents, service users, customers, citizens, indeed anyone about the important issues when they just don’t trust anything you are saying?
Do we care enough?
The good news is that trust can be built and sustained by those who work in communications and engagement. The bad news is that all too often it doesn’t seem to be the focus of activities. From experience, there is a readiness from clients and practitioners to spend time and resources on getting the messaging, creative and collateral together. However, there is not the same emphasis given to thinking whether there is any trust between those involved and whether in the end, anyone will listen to what is being communicated. Perhaps this is because of messaging, creative and collateral all, in the end, have a physical manifestation in a core script, logos and leaflets, websites and the like, but trust is something much more intangible.
However, trust can be built and sustained, but it takes a commitment to key principles:
- Transparency: People need to know about the challenges and how decisions will be made.
- Vision: People need to know why you are doing what you are doing. Why you are doing it in that way that you are. Plus, what is in it for their community.
- Constant dialogue: People need to be taken on a journey with you, through a constant dialogue - you need to listen and show how you have listened
As well as these principles, you need the right tools to build and sustain trust:
- Messaging: Consistent messaging needs to present the challenges and goals of the project. This needs to go beyond ‘spin’ and provide a clear public set of principles.
- Data: Contact with stakeholders needs to be recorded along with the feedback from them. This will allow a relationship to be built and sustained over the long term.
- Channels: Having access to the right channels means you can reach the right people, at the right time, in the right way for your message.
- Timetable: To make the most of the key events of the project you need to have a timetable which not only provides certainty to stakeholders, but it also ensures that each moment is used to build a dialogue around the project.
- People: People will trust people even when they will not trust institutions. This means you need to have the right people, supported in the right way, to build a relationship and a dialogue around the project
Building trust isn’t easy, but it is essential in getting the message across and allowing a genuine debate to happen.