Trendlines 2017: Trust and Reputation

2016 was a tumultuous year for trust. From a presidential election that upended many of the rules of politics in the United States, to Brexit in the UK, 2016 tested the public’s trust in institutions, brands, organizations and public figures. 

Declining Trust in the Media & Institutions

A big 2016 storyline has been growing distrust of traditional media and the continued rapid decentralization of mass communication. According to Gallup, the American publics’ trust in media hit a new low of just 32% of adults who reported having a great deal or fair amount of trust in the mass media. Particularly striking is the downward movement between 2015 and 2016, but if traditional media isn’t viewed as a trustworthy messenger, who is? 



It’s not other major institutions either. 


Source: Gallup;

Trust in organized religion, public schools, the Supreme Court of the United States, banks and Congress, organized labor and the criminal justice system have all seen a decline in public trust since 2006. Trust in big business has remained the same, at 18% (Read more at Gallup).

Lack of trust is particularly pronounced amongst Millennials. A Harvard IOP survey found that just 9% of Millennials trust the media “all or most of the time.” While other institutions aren’t quite as distrusted by millennials, they don’t fare well either. 

Looking to 2017 and Key Takeaways

2016 highlighted significant issues in the way institutions, organizations and brands have to handle communications and strategic challenges. As we move into 2017, leaders will have to grapple with how to build trust and protect reputations. Here are five key points:

  1. Building trust and protecting reputations must be a core strategic function of any organization or brand. 
  2. Executives and leadership must take an active role in building trust and ensuring organizational readiness for challenges to reputation and trust.
  3. While trust in the traditional sense is declining in many institutions (and individuals), trust is manifesting itself in other ways, specifically in the sharing economy. According to a report by PwC, consumers trust peer regulation. Finding new ways to connect with the public will be key. 
  4. Organizations and brands must have a framework in place to confront crisis. This must include developing an deep understanding of the constituencies that organizations must address and the assets, external and internal, that are available to assist in doing that.
  5. Organizations and brands should be proactive in building trust and reputations. Communicating value and purpose through CSR and other initiatives should be a part of overarching strategy.