Businesses Deemed More Trustworthy Than the Media

Businesses Deemed More Trustworthy Than the Media

Become Wealth Editor

A lesson on public trust

The 2023 Edelman Trust Barometer Global Report has some stark findings, that people trust businesses more than they do the media. New Zealand is not among the countries that Edelman surveys however, a study by a local affiliate last year found that trust in the media here is just 41%, well below Edelman’s global average of 50%. On a scale of 1-100, with 1 representing a lack of trust, and 100 representing trustworthiness. On the other hand, business scored 61, and so just made it to the trustworthy upper third percentile.

How did we get to the point where media are so distrusted?

Media institutions are supposed to provide the public with unbiased information about the world around them, informing society on current affairs and pressing issues. Yet the truth is far from this reality – in fact, Fortune states “Trust in media is so low that half of Americans now believe that news organisations deliberately mislead them.”

Why Doesn’t the Public Trust the Media?  

Back on our own shores, the numbers are even worse than in the US. That may not be a surprise if you note many recent developments in the New Zealand media scene:

  • Many New Zealand media outlets are owned by the government. Because of this, Radio New Zealand (RNZ) recently was lambasted in international headlines when they complained about Twitter transparently labelling it as a government funded media outlet. RNZ is funded by the government through New Zealand On Air, which injects $48 million annually.
  • Media advertising revenues are down, so badly was sold for a dollar, that’s right: a single dollar!  
  • At the height of the pandemic, New Zealand media received a $55 million bailout. Whatever your personal thoughts on this matter, it is tough to refute allegations media outlets benefiting from the bailout have developed a bias or preference towards the government or the political party responsible for the funding, let alone separate concerns around transparency of the funding, and perceived influence on editorial content. It's worth noting these perception issues may arise regardless of any government's intentions or the actual impact on journalistic integrity – public perception plays a significant role in shaping trust in the media, and any perceived conflicts of interest or influence can undermine that trust.

Sowing the Seeds of Dissent

The data shows our public trust in news outlets is on a four-year slide.

“It is a worrying trend for democracy and journalism and news – and you start to wonder where the bottom is. We used to be sitting above the other comparable countries in the (international) Reuters survey – and now we are at the same level,” said Dr Merja Myllylahti, Senior Lecturer of Communication Studies at AUT.

“It has actually been falling faster in New Zealand than other countries. Generally speaking, trust is one of the reasons that people choose the news to consume – and that is going down as well. So, that means, even the stuff that we like, you New Zealanders are finding less trustworthy,” Dr Greg Treadwell, also Senior Lecturer of Communication Studies at AUT, said.

Can Trust Be Rebuilt?

“Newsrooms can do things to regain some of the lost trust in audiences, but there are other things intersecting here... For example, RNZ [Radio New Zealand] is an institution and in some people’s minds, it is a government institution of sorts,” Dr Treadwell said.

“People are really grumpy with the government and if you go through a pandemic, a cyclone – all the things that New Zealand’s been through – emotionally, you want to take it out on someone. It is a very difficult thing to unpick,” he said.

Facebook was the third most popular source of news. Some respondents cited local information groups on Facebook as a preferred source of local news.

Tuning Out

Another finding of the 2023 report is that New Zealanders are actually less interested in the news overall than other countries in the Reuters Institute’s survey – and a lot less than some.

About 69% of New Zealand respondents said that they ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ avoid the news. Brazil was second with 54% and Japan, just 14%. In Finland, Dr Myllylahti’s home country, only 20% of the people avoided the news.

The Trust in News Report said that the reasons people say they avoid the news are familiar.

“News feels depressing and biased, and it increases anxiety. Many of those responding found news repetitive, boring, and overly dramatic,” it said.

“Finland is one of the countries where the news is most trusted. The newspapers put out an extremely high-quality product,” Dr Myllylahti said.

On the other hand, what are non-media businesses doing right?

Why are Businesses Seen as More Trustworthy?

A Multifaceted Answer

Transparency is probably the obvious answer to why the public trusts businesses more than the media. Sure, a business is selling a product or service to you, but they are open about it: if a business doesn’t add value to your life, it doesn’t get paid. In fact, businesses double-down on this concept – they nearly all want repeat customers or clients – so they need to keep you happy and wanting more of their products and services.

Concepts and practices such as transparent marketing and brand awareness are core tenants of business success. Marketing teams are aware that overselling and under-delivering results in mistrust, and a bad reputation. As Forbes surmises “If the standard you set in customers’ minds is accurate, they will be more open to making a purchase again. However, if the relationship begins with a lie, they will most likely avoid purchasing anything from your brand.”

Stalwart brands Land Rover, HP, Gillette, and American Express make the Oberlo Most Trusted Brands list. Whilst The CEO Magazine also lists global giants Adidas, Toyota, Rolex, Canon, Microsoft, Samsung and the Walt Disney Company amongst others. A fair few new-age tech companies also make these lists – notably Google, PayPal, and Salesforce.

These companies span many industries but share one thing in common, quality products and services that their customers return to.

Industry Breakdown

Business is obviously a very broad bracket – so let’s break down just how trustworthy the public sees certain industries. Technology is the frontrunner, scoring 74, whilst Education, Healthcare and Manufacturing scored 69. Close behind is food and beverage, automotive, retail and transportation industries. Professional services, telecommunications, energy, entertainment and consumer packaged goods (CPG) all fell within the low 60s bracket – making them trusted, technically, but not held in too high esteem.

Fashion, financial services and social media scored under 60, with 58, 56 and 44 retrospectively. Yet it’s not all bad news for the industries in this sector. Whilst financial services only scored 56, it scored 44 only a decade ago. People in this industry are making slow but steady steps to gain public trust after the global financial crisis of 2008 and 2009.  

Family-Owned Businesses Are the Most Trusted

An interesting trend that the Edelman Trust Barometer finds is that family-owned businesses are definitely the most trusted business ownership structure amongst the public. With a 67 percent trust score, family-owned is the clear frontrunner, followed by privately held scoring 58, publicly traded at 56 and state-owned at 52 percent.

Harvard Business Review verifies that customers really do trust family-owned businesses more. New Neuro Marketing attributes this to authenticity, Forbes believes the “warm and fuzzy factor” has something to do with it. In other words, the backstory of hardworking grown-ups creating something reputable for their future generations.

The Bottom Line: Transparency of Intention Wins Trust

Transparency is at the root of trust. People want to know the truth and businesses are perceived as more honest than the media when conveying their intentions. This provides a great lesson for business owners – if you want to create a brand and legacy, sell them honestly and always aim to provide high quality products and services so they’ll happily come back for more.

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