The Edelman Trust Barometer 2012 – a survey of trust in business, government, media and NGOs – shows a sharp increase in trust in media in India over the past year among well-off, well-educated and well-informed Indians. But trust in business and government appears to have remained at a fairly constant level.
After declining by 15 percentage points over two years to 50% last year, trust in media in India reversed course this year, rising by double digits to 70%. Trust levels in business (69%) and government (53%) have been stagnant and tended to move in tandem over the past five years.
Globally, in the midst of a systemic decline in trust in most institutions, a “Person like me” has re-emerged as one of the three most credible spokespeople in India.
In India, trust in social media showed a double digit rise, from 19% to 29%.
Campaign India met Richard Edelman, president and chief executive officer, Edelman, and Robert Holdheim, managing director, Edelman India, to get some more insights to the numbers:
CI: To what would you attribute the trust in media rising to 70% among the informed public?
Richard Edelman (RE): Whether it’s the Commonwealth Games, the telecom licenses, the Anna Hazare fasting, all of these are pushed by media. Media gets the credit for being the group that somehow gets the policy to change, and gets people to move faster or even gets a government minister tossed out. In places like the US, the media got a lot credit for predicting that the Democrats and Republicans were heading for a crash on the debt ceiling.
CI: The “Person Like Me” has re-emerged as one of the three most credible spokespeople with 69% credibility (up from 47% last year), according to the report. How can brands use "The Person Like Me" wisely?
RE: The key to a “Person Like Me” is someone who has personal experience. If you find a mom who has used diapers for a kid, then it’s credible. If you find someone who’s a grandmother talking about diapers, then it isn’t credible. You should be careful of relying excessively on celebrities. It’s only useful if the celebrity has the experience. This gets easily discovered if someone is tweeting about it and doesn’t seem to know what he or she is talking about. There are so many mechanisms to find the truth.
CI: The Government of India still enjoys a certain amount of trust. Is that surprising, considering the number of scams exposed last year?
RE: Of the four institutions, it’s the lowest ranked at 50% barely. It’s more than you would expect, and I think, that’s because there are such low expectations, as opposed to business which has high expectations. There’s a part of this study that shows that if you ask a tough question of a government leader, 43% think they would lie.
CI: You’ve mentioned that the way forward for businesses is to be seen as a force for good and an engine for profit. Can businesses balance both in the current economic conditions?
RE: I think the first thing is don’t over-promise. Don’t say things that are hard to achieve. I actually do think that business is a force for good. It can organise its supply chain to make sure it’s eco-oriented; can help change how consumers think about using the brand (cold water wash versus hot water for example); business can also be a good and diverse employer; business can also be good for community development. I actually believe in business models that are about shared value. Professor Michael Porter of Harvard Business School has this wonderful paper, where he sees this virtuous cycle of ‘Do well and do good’. The ‘do well’ isn’t sufficient anymore.
Robert Holdheim (RH): When I came to India two years ago, I hadn’t expected the concept of what we then called CSR. What I found was actually the contrary. In the sense that because the government is releatively ineffectual on things like infrastructure and social programmes, companies have been forced to play a larger role in society over the years, Tatas being the best example there is.
CI: How do the numbers in India compare to other countries?
RE: If you look at APAC, in every one of the markets (excluding Hong Kong and Malaysia), government was the one that went down in trust. Second, if you look at business across the world, you would see declines in the expected markets – France, Spain, Germany, where they have recessive problems. India, in terms of business trust, is fourth highest in the world (Indonesia, China and Mexico are in top three). Also, in terms of trend, I would say it’s fascinating that banks are the worst hit when it comes to trust, but they’re second highest in India (90%). Technology is high everywhere (92% in India). Automobiles have continued to rise over the years (88% trust enjoyed in India). The things that are creating modernity are doing well here. Trust in CEOs has gone down in India this year to 68%, but it’s still high.
CI: How much can PR firms help in building trust, especially in a country like India?
RH: First of all, there’s PR and there’s PR. Let’s distinguish between what’s thought of traditionally as PR in India, which is just getting mentions and piles of clips, and what we consider, which is more about creating a dialogue and public engagement, and looking at multiple channels, media relations just being one part of that. A lot of trust is about transparency, the perception is that companies and a lot of others aren’t transparent. The simple act of creating content and information and disseminating it through various channels and making executives accessible, creates trust and transparency. One example is when we worked with General Motors during their bankruptcy announcement here in India. The concern was that the US bankruptcy would cause customers here to think they wouldn’t be able to get spare parts and so on for their cars. A lot of that communication happened digitally. We made executives available online, sent out messages saying that this is not going to affect our ability to fulfil servicing needs. We were very clear about the impact that would happen or not happen as a result of the US announcement, and that proved to be very effective.
CI Note: The Edelman Trust Barometer, now in its 12th year, covered 30,000+ respondents online in 25 countries among an 18+ aged general public respondents category and 25-64 years of age informed publics category. The informed publics category meet the following criteria: college-educated, household income in the top quartile for their age in their country, read or watch business⁄news media at least several times a week and follow public policy issues in the news at least several times a week. In India, 1,200 respondents were sampled (1,000 among the general population and 200 informed publics).