Earlier this week, Edelman released the global findings from the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer – the 12th year of the firm’s annual trust and credibility survey.  Anyone in the business of communications, or planning how an organization engages with its audience, should take note of the results – and particularly that data surrounding trust in media.

For starters, the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer shows an overall decline in trust globally, with steep declines in the levels of trust in government and business. Government is now the least trusted institution–trailing business, media, and NGOs. Business experienced fewer and generally less severe declines in trust, but has its own hurdles to clear – notably that CEO credibility declined 38 percent, its biggest drop in Barometer history. For the fifth year in a row, NGOs are the most trusted institution.

Media was the only institution to see an increase in trust over the past year. Global trust in media is now above 50 percent – and media in India (20 percentage points), the United States (18 percentage points), the UK (15 percentage points), and Italy (12 percentage points) all saw significant gains.

What does that mean for your work?  Here are five takeaways related to media:

1 – Traditional Media Stronger Than Ever

Not only are traditional media (and search) the most trusted sources, but in specific circumstances – corporate earnings, product launch information, details on a crisis — they are also the first places people go for information. Traditional media — TV, newspapers, magazines, radio – and online search engines are the most trusted sources of information for people searching for general news and information, new product information, news on an environmental crisis, and company announcements. In the United States, trust in all media sources rose, with major jumps in the perceived trustworthiness of television, radio, and newspapers as sources of information about a company (by 23, 13, and 11 percentage points, respectively).

In the U.K., those same sources increased by 25, 17, and 17 percentage points, respectively. In France and Germany, however, trust in television news and newspapers fell by ten or more points.

Traditional media likely earned the trust of various audiences after doing a solid job covering the financial turmoil throughout the European Union as well as numerous corporate crises, including the Bank of America debit card fee, the Netflix/Qwikster snafu, and the India telecoms scandal.

But trust is ever-changing, so to maintain its upward trajectory, traditional media must continue to innovate, not just by embracing new platforms but also by expanding its focus (covering more stories), deepening its commitment(following issues over time) and doing a better job engaging its audience (sharing data, co-creating coverage, sharing responsibility for fact checking).

2 – Digital DNA Key to Hybrid Media Influence

Traditional media has worked hard in the past year to expand its digital offering, and still has work to do if it wants to earn its stripes using social networks.  Hybrid media, by contrast, has digital as a core part of its DNA and has used its approach and perspective on how to engage with audiences to build trust around the world.

According to data from the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer, 83% of the general population use digital media for general news and information and in countries like Russia (95%), China (93%) and Indonesia (92%) the usage was even higher.  Not surprisingly, among 18 – 29 year olds, digital media is the most popular source for general news and information.

Hybrid media – which includes content aggregators and curators (Flipboard and Pulse and Storify, TechMeme), as well as personality and topic-specific-blogs and news sites (VentureBeat, Politico, GigaOm, and Sports Blog Nation) – post frequently, on a range of topics, and look to social media and the online community to help extend the life of stories and integrate different angles and audiences.

Like their traditional counterparts, hybrid media acquitted itself with its coverage of key stories over the past year. They still trail traditional media sources, as well as search, on the list of sources for general news and information, but their influence on the media industry, and the innovation they are helping to drive across all sectors, is clear. With a growing number of news consumers looking to hybrid media for information, the opportunity to drive further disruption across the media universe remains great.

3 – Social Leads the Pack

Social-networking, micro-blogging, and content-sharing sites (Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr) witnessed the most dramatic percentage increase as trusted sources of information about a company, rising by 88, 86, and 75 percent, respectively.  Search engines and news/RSS feeds also saw a jump (18 percent together).  The findings suggest that some of the trust that audiences have in social media was transferred from other media. For example, in China, Trust Barometer data showed double-digit decreases in television as a trusted source, plunging from 74 to 43 percent, and trust in Chinese newspapers fell by 20 points to 34 percent.

But trust in social media jumped: micro-blogging sites and social-networking sites in China went from virtual distrust at just one percent each to being greatly trusted by 25 percent and 21 percent, respectively. The rapid growth in social media usage within China is best exemplified by Weibo (the Twitter equivalent in China), which at the end of 2010 had 60 million users and by the end of 2011 had grown to more than 310 million users.

In addition to massive growth, major news stories, including the corruption of the Red Cross and a high-speed train crash, were first reported on Weibo, and they became central to discussion about political and other issues.

4 – Transparency Vital on Owned Channels

Every company is a media company, no matter what its business or activity.  Data from the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer shows that ‘owned’ channels – a company’s website or blogs for example – are a key source of trusted information for consumers.  The data show a significant rise in trust among owned channels, and notably corporate communications and corporate/product advertising.

At the same time, the credibility of CEOs, along with government officials, experienced a massive decline this past year. Organizational leaders should not take this (solely) as a criticism, but rather an invitation to partner with outside thought leaders and elevate other employees and technical experts from within their own ranks to the position of trusted spokesperson.

Traditional, hybrid, and social media are trusted in the eyes of audiences likely in large part because of their transparency and commitment to innovation. To achieve the necessary level of participation and engagement required to earn trust in a connected society, most organizations still need to undergo a cultural change in terms of their online communications, and especially their owned channels.

Organizations must gear themselves to the transparency of the new media and remove hierarchies from its own media and communications structures to establish and maintain trust with audiences. Beyond just posting more and better information, organizations must also be alert to comments on its products, brands, or personnel all across digital media, and be prepared to respond and engage quickly. This rise in trust seen this past year should be seen as encouraging, but more importantly used as evidence that more can, and should, be done.

5 – Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

There is one last data point from the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer that all media, and other organizations, must understand. Against the backdrop of increased skepticism, 63 percent say that messages must be repeated between three and five times for them to be believed, a four-point uptick over last year. In Japan, which now sits second from the bottom of the list of where countries rank in terms of overall trust in institutions, the number is 82 percent.

That means in one year more people need to hear the same things repeated, across different channels and from different sources, before they believe its accuracy. Let me say that again: that means in one year more people need to hear the same things repeated, across different channels and from different sources, before they believe its accuracy. The results of the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer show what we have known for a while – how important it is to stimulate storytelling and conversation that creates motion across all of the different types of media.

It is critical that all organizations, and especially media, focus on providing smart ideas, high-quality content that can be easily found and shared, and commit to a level of engagement with their audience, that benefits all. The more this line of thinking becomes embedded into how organizations operate, the more credibility and trust will be found. What do you think the path forward for media will be?  How can media build on a strong 2011 to cement its status as a trusted institution in future surveys?  And what can business, government, NGOs – and others – learn from the rise in trust in media this past year?

For more information about the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer visit Trust.Edelman.com or read the Executive Summary or the Global Results Presentation.

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