The Trust Problem

by Ken Mueller on December 12, 2012 · 9 comments

white 15 The Trust ProblemSend to Kindle

We have a problem. A trust problem. We just aren’t a very trusting people.

Just look at the latest results from Gallup on how much trust we put, or don’t put, in various groups of people.

Honesty rating from Gallup 1 The Trust Problem

 Not a very promising picture. We just don’t seem to have very much trust in most groups of people, particularly in the realms of business and politics.

So if we’re not trusting most of these folks, who are we trusting?

I bet if the same folks were asked, they would all be able to identify individuals in each of those groups that they DO trust. We might not trust business executives, but perhaps we trust John Smith who happens to be a business executive. Why? Because we know him and we have experience with him.

But when it comes to groups of people, institutions, and some individuals, there is both the perception and the reality. They may actually be doing things that cause us to mistrust them, which leads to widespread perceptions. Though sometimes the perception is there, regardless of the reality.

Advertising practitioners only get 11% for high or very high trust. I would bet that in most people’s minds, that includes marketers and PR practitioners. That’s why Gini Dietrich is working hard over at Spin Sucks to change both the reality and the perception of those in the PR industry.

Who do we trust?

If we’re not trusting groups of people or institutions, who are we trusting?

People. Our friends. Individuals.

This is why social media works: it’s based on our personal connections, and spreading word of mouth to and from the people we trust. We’d rather trust the opinions of those we connect with in person and online, over any paid forms of marketing or advertising.

This isn’t a matter of Klout or measuring influence. It’s a matter of me trusting a particular friend or acquaintance. Some people just engender our trust by the way they act and live their lives.

If their is a perception that we can’t be trusted, what are we doing about it? Does the perception line up with reality? If so, what are we doing to regain their trust?

If it’s merely a perception, how can we repair it?

We need to constantly work at not just being trustworthy, but appearing trustworthy. Both are important.

Who do you trust, and why? And how do others view you and your level of trustworthiness?

 The Trust Problem

For those of us in marketing, we have a great opportunity to reintroduce trust into the business world by holding ourselves and our clients to high standards. Clients look to us for leadership in marketing issues. Sometimes they feel pressure to cut ethical corners because of the weak economy. We can make a big impact by suggesting white-hat methods of marketing that emphasize truth, real benefits to customers and positive messaging. 

girlseeksplace 1 Like

I wonder how many responses to that list were based on gut reactions to experiences people had with workers in those categories, whether good or bad. We may trust nurses inherently, but one bad experience could color our view of the entire nursing population. Nurses are just example - any of those professions could be inserted.

KenMueller moderator

@girlseeksplace Not really sure. I bet some are based on personal experiences and others are based on cultural perceptions. I mean, we have a low view of lawyers as a whole, but I know lots of great lawyers. It could be it has to do with that whole thing about one bad apple spoiling something for others. 


Hi Ken,

Powerful message here. On the brand front, I think we are apt to trust brands that are transparent. It goes back to the influence of social media; our Internet experience is a community experience, where our friends and family hang out and weigh in. Brands can join that space only when we are convinced that they are being "real" with us, affecting our experience like a friend or family member. 

This means honesty. Letting the cracks show. Apologizing when they mess up. I think it's a direction we'll see many companies pursue in social media marketing next year. 


Sarah Bauer

Navigator Multimedia

KenMueller moderator

@sarahfayebauer I think the honesty and transparency is key on this, and apologizing. That says a lot about a person's character. 

magriebler 1 Like

I think you're spot on here. For me, I find that I gain trust in people who are consistent in their behavior, on- and offline. Our personal brand is becoming more and more important as a tool to break down barriers and make new connections possible. It doesn't happen overnight; it takes time; it takes patience. All of these are in short supply lately, sad to say.

KenMueller moderator

@magriebler I think we make a mistake when we think we can separate ourselves from our businesses. It just doesn't work anymore. And the online thing ties the two together even more. 

RebeccaTodd 1 Like

Wow that is a scary graphic. I really enjoyed how you broke in down in to who we do trust. Gave me some hope at least. 

KenMueller moderator 1 Like

@RebeccaTodd I think this is valuable knowledge for businesses operating in the social realm. People don't really put their trust in our marketing and advertising, but they do trust their friends. That right there shows the power of word of mouth, and how we as businesses need to approach social.

Previous post:

Next post: