Who Do You Trust The Most (And The Least)?

What types of people do you trust?

That question, posed by the PR firm Edelman in its annual Trust Barometer, gives companies and organizations valuable insight into the people who should – and shouldn’t – be speaking on their behalf. To help understand what types of people are most trustworthy, Edelman surveys “informed publics” between the ages of 25-64 in 20 countries.

The following numbers reflect the percentage of people who deemed these people “extremely” or “very” credible:

  1. 68%: Academic or expert
  2. 66%: Technical expert in the company
  3. 65%: A person like yourself
  4. 50%: A regular employee
  5. 50%: NGO (non-governmental organization) representative
  6. 46%: Financial or industry analyst

But one additional number caught the eye of eagle-eyed reader and crisis pro Chris Syme, who sent in this terrific question:

“I noticed one of the big shifts in this year’s Edelman’s Trust Barometer was CEO trust–down from 50% to 38% (people asked if they would trust info from a CEO). In light of this slide, do you recommend training a CEO to be primary spokesperson in a crisis?”

Her question made me think of another survey I often read, one that finds that voters regularly tell pollsters that they hate Congress, but like their own member of Congress. Similarly, I’m not surprised that people don’t trust CEOs in the aggregate, but the more important question is whether they trust an individual CEO.

And the answer to that question, as unsatisfying as it might be, is “it depends.”

Some CEOs are terrific on-camera – credible, sincere, and immediately likeable. I’d hate to take them off the list of being a primary spokesperson because a study said that their peers aren’t trustworthy.

So yes, I’d continue to train them as a primary spokesperson. But I also wouldn’t ignore the data that show that 66% of people deemed a technical expert as highly credible, or that 50% of people found a regular employee highly credible. For certain crises, a media-savvy technical expert or regular employee might fit the bill better than the CEO.

Crisis pro Jane Jordan-Meier offers a few additional tips for selecting the right spokesperson in a crisis, one of which is to select a spokesperson who can bring their heart and their head to the response.

By the way, only one group rated lower than CEOs. Only 29% of respondents deemed government officials or regulators as “extremely” or “very” credible.