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Building Trust in the Misinformation Age: Be Like Einstein and Keep it Simple

Albert Einstein gets quoted a lot. Perhaps that’s because he was a genius. Or maybe it’s because he always kept it simple. For example, Einstein said* that “every kind of peaceful cooperation is primarily based on mutual trust.”

When we trust someone, we believe that they will do the things they say they will. If you’ve ever been part of a team-building exercise, you understand the consequences of “trust falls” gone awry.

Media and technology platforms are in the midst of their own trust-fall fail. Paradoxically, the technology responsible for connecting us to information is also responsible for creating distrust in that information. Thanks to algorithms created by humans to elicit responses that drive profit, it has become more difficult to know who to trust and when to trust them.

According to the annual Edelman Trust Barometer (a global survey of more than 36,000 respondents), 76% of people worry about false information being “used as a weapon.” A recent study by the Institute for Public Relations (IPR) says that two-thirds of Americans consider disinformation a pressing societal issue.

Proximity Builds Trust

Consumers of information seem to think globally and trust locally. Nearly half of those surveyed by Edelman share a “lack of faith in media and government,” yet they trust their coworkers (74%) and CEOs (66%). According to IPR data, family (79%) and friends (75%) far outpace other information sources in terms of trustworthiness.

And, while mainstream national media is more trusted than all social sites, local broadcast news and local newspapers hold comparatively high trust numbers at 60%.

It seems that the closer people are to the source of information, the more willing they are to believe it.

A study by Accenture of more than 7,000 companies found that trust is as important as growth and profitability in the financial health of a company, and that a loss of trust can lead to a significant reduction in revenue.

How can Companies Tell Stories in a Cloud of Distrust?

Previously in this space I made the case for establishing brand purpose at the core of all company communications. And that reputation is all about believability and trust.

As you build your organization, establish yourself as a partner to other companies, and create your brand and external reputation, here are three ways to set yourself up for long-term success:

  1. Create a trust-rich culture. Trust has to start from within if you expect your employees to deliver the same to customers. Prove through your actions that you won’t tolerate gaps between what you say and what you do.
  2. Embrace clarity in all things. The more complex the language, the muddier the message. Transparency is easier when we make things simple and direct.
  3. Keep it real. Too often accountability is reactive—we get called out and then we own up. We are now expected to call out our own fouls. People forgive mistakes. They won’t forgive manipulation, being spun, or lied to.

There is an opportunity for companies and leaders to bridge the trust gap. Brands gain trust by ensuring consistency through every communications channel.

Trust starts within your organization—from employee communications to your website, blogs, events, and owned channels. What you say on your website and through social media, should be the same as how you appear at a tradeshow or at a community event. Building trust is best shown when you are transparent about the company—past, present, and future. Don’t discount the power of trade, technology and national media to amplify stories grounded in truth (even if they’re not as trusted as your local daily newspaper).

Trust is concrete. In a world fearful of disinformation, gain trust through clarity of purpose and consistent action. As Einstein might suggest, keep it simple.

Bob Osmond is president of Racepoint Global, an integrated communications agency that helps shape conversations that matter for tech-forward brands.

*There’s debate about whether Einstein actually said some of the quotes attributed to him.


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