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The OCR Glossary

Edelman Trust Barometer

Karla K. Gower

The Edelman Trust Barometer is an annual gauge of the international population’s trust in business organizations, governments, and the media. It is prominent among a number of similar annual research studies published by public relations agencies. This entry first goes over the history of Daniel Edelman’s trust barometer and the specific methodology used in it. It then gives an overview of the importance of exploring trust and of the five areas of trust Edelman focuses on in the Edelman Trust Barometer.

The Edelman Trust Barometer is published by Edelman, the world’s largest independently owned public relations firm. Edelman founded the agency that bears his name in 1952. As of early 2015, his son, Richard, serves as CEO and president of Edelman, which has more than 5,000 employees in 65 cities. In 2001, Edelman began conducting annual research to explore the nature and evolution of trust on behalf of public relations, business, and reputation managers.

The methodology and results of the Edelman Trust Barometer are open to the public to review. The report is developed by Edelman Berland, a branch of Edelman that conducts global market research and analytics. The methodology of the barometer has continued to evolve, making direct comparisons between the results of the 2001 survey and the 2014 survey impossible. The 2001 barometer surveyed 600 “thought leaders” in the United Kingdom, Germany, and France; 500 in the United States; and 200 in Australia. Over the 14 years of the barometer’s history, more participants from other countries have been surveyed. The results from 2014 were based on 20-minute online interviews with approximately 33,000 participants in 27 countries. The participants were divided into general population participants and “informed publics” (college educated, in the top quartile of household income, and following business news regularly).

To assess the concept of trust across different organizations, the Edelman Trust Barometer focuses on five distinct areas: (1) engagement, (2) integrity, (3) products and services, (4) purpose, and (5) operations. In addition to gauging the overall concept of trust, the barometer organizes trust as a function of other factors related to an organization, including the particular industry or sector in which a business operates, its enterprise type, its country of origin, and its ownership and leadership structures.

In year-to-year comparisons, the barometer has revealed relevant trends pertaining to trust. The initial 2001 barometer found a rising influence of nongovernmental organizations. The 2002 results featured the “fall of the celebrity CEO.” In 2003, earned media was first noted as being more credible than traditional advertising, sparking a discussion on the growing presence and importance of social media platforms. The 2004 report noted that a “trust discount” was affecting U.S. organizations operating in Europe. The 2005 barometer noted that peers were becoming more trustworthy spokespersons than authority figures, reflecting the growing influence of social media networks and culminating in the 2006 finding of the superior credibility of “a person like me.” The 2007 barometer indicated that businesses were more trusted than either governments or media. Young “opinion elites” between the ages of 25 and 34 years were assessed for the first time in 2008, and they showed more trust in business than their older peers.

The barometers from 2009 to 2013 reflected the impact of the recession. Emerging themes highlighted during these years included connection and partnership with government (2009), trust as a fundamental component of businesses (2010), the rise of authority figures (2011), and trust crises for both the government sector (2012) and leadership (2013).

The 2014 barometer noted an overall decline in trust over the previous year, primarily due to continuing substantial drops in trust of government. The end result is a growing “trust gap,” in which trust in business continues to outpace trust in government. Drops in trust in government were particularly strong in the United States, France, and Hong Kong. Trust in media also showed significant declines. Trust in online sources of information was superior to trust in television and newspapers. Informed publics appeared to be substantially more trusting than the general public.

Trust varied across sectors in the 2014 barometer, with technology organizations continuing to have higher levels of trust and banks garnering the lowest level of trust among the sectors studied. Family-owned and small to medium-sized businesses enjoyed greater trust than larger, publicly traded and state-owned businesses, except in Asia. In spite of general trust for the organizations they lead, both business and government leaders were trusted very little. While consumers endorsed a need for government to protect them from unethical businesses, they also believed that businesses should play a role in debate and regulation within their industries.

The methodology and overall focus of the barometer, including the selection of countries and the number of participants, has been criticized on occasion over the years. However, the barometer continues to be cited frequently and somewhat uncritically as a reference by scholars and practitioners alike.

Hon, L. C., & Grunig, J. E. (1999). Guidelines for measuring relationships in public relations. Gainesville, FL: Institute for Public Relations.

Rawlins, B. L. (2008). Measuring the relationship between organizational transparency and employee trust. Public Relations Journal, 2, 1–21.

2014 Edelman Trust Barometer. (2014). Retrieved from

See Also

Accountability; Attitudes; Audiences; Authenticity; Benchmarking; Engagement; Expectancy Violations Theory; Expectation Management; Feedback; Public Esteem; Ratings; Research Methods in Corporate Reputation

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