​The end of trust? Three trends and actions to take now​

The end of trust? Three trends and actions to take now

It’s safe to say that the last few years have been unprecedented, and how the public is consuming information and making big decisions is changing rapidly. The COVID-19 pandemic has created long-term changes in how people behave, and younger generations, particularly Gen Z, are driving bigger shifts in media and information consumption. As the media landscape continues to become more fragmented and less trusted, people are increasingly turning to more local and personal sources to learn and make key decisions.

Here are three larger trends we’re watching that will inform how marketers and communications professionals approach their work in this era of distrust.

The continued erosion of trust in institutions

According to a 2022 study conducted by Edelman, distrust is now society’s “default emotion,” with 6 out of 10 respondents saying their default tendency is to distrust something until they see evidence that it is trustworthy. What’s more, there is a growing distrust in the government and the media, with only about half of the public saying they trust each of these institutions. We’ve seen the same trend in our own audience research, with a recent survey of Wisconsinites finding that only half of participants say they trust a government organization to help keep themselves and their families safe.

Distrust in these institutions has been growing for years, but the COVID-19 pandemic, political instability and societal disruptions of the past few years have significantly eroded the public’s trust—nearly half of participants in the Edelman study now view the government and media as divisive forces in society.

The messenger is often more important than the message

While trust in traditional authorities is decreasing, people continue to turn to their families, friends, employers and communities when they have questions, for the news or for assistance with a big decision. In recent audience research with returning adult students, community organizations on the frontlines of COVID-19, high schoolers and the general public, we’ve heard it again and again—the message is important, but not as important as the messenger. Respondents’ most-trusted influencers? Their spouse and family, friends, and community leaders like local organizations and employers, pastors, teachers and coaches.

Edelman’s 2022 Trust Barometer report found this as well—people are increasingly less likely to trust “outsiders” but have increased amounts of trust in their coworkers and neighbors.

People of all ages now turn to social media for news

In a study conducted in July 2022, Pew found that half of U.S. adults get news at least sometimes from social media, and about one in five often get their news from social media. While this shift is more prevalent amongst Gen Z and Millennial adults under 30—where three out of four people at least sometimes get their news from social media—even older adults are shifting their news consumption away from television to digital platforms. The pandemic sped this shift with a rise in connected TV, subscription streaming and digital audio.

User-generated content also continues to rise, with 70% of Gen Z and 66% of Millennials saying they spend more time than planned engaging with user-generated content.  

This larger shift in where and how information is consumed means more and more people, especially younger audiences, are learning news and making decisions based on the posts of friends and influencers.

With these larger shifts in trust, how can your organization authentically communicate its message?

Whether you’re looking to increase brand awareness, convince the public to follow health guidelines or enroll more new students, the communications landscape has changed. Distrust in traditional authorities means changing your communications strategy. Here are three things you can do to communicate more effectively with your audiences and spend your marketing budget effectively:

1. Gather new data on your audiences

If you haven’t conducted primary research with your audience in the last year, it may be time to consider new market or audience research to learn how their opinions and behaviors have changed. You may find that your audiences’ needs, goals, and perceptions are very different from what they were even a few years ago.

2. Seek out effective messengers

As trust in institutions declines, it’s more important to find authentic messengers who can reach your audience in a believable way. Whether it’s a spokesperson, partnerships with community groups or a peer-to-peer-based campaign, including trusted messengers can help bridge the trust gap and make your messaging more believable.

3. Use owned and earned media to communicate high-quality information as transparently as possible

Clear, high-quality, and consistent information can be a powerful trust builder. Use the channels you have access to, particularly social channels where more people are seeking information, to build trust amongst your audience.

KW2's successes with conducting research and designing effective influencer campaigns can help you understand your audience in ways that build trust. You can contact Jen for more information.