Redefining Trust In A Digital Age

Trust is not coming back. Scepticism reigns, as it should. – Gerry McGovern

Since the industrial revolution,  a trusting relationship between individuals and organisations has been the norm.

This has shaped the way we communicate – both internally and externally. It has resulted in the issuing of corporate annual reports, press releases , customer satisfaction scores and benchmarking results. All designed to tell a positive, on-message story.

Those days have gone.

As Gerry McGovern writes – the game has profoundly changed. “Many organisations are still deluding themselves into thinking that if they can just get their marketing and PR right, they can control the message, control the future.”

I’m not a smoker, but I’m told that if you really want to get a view of what’s happening in an organisation you don’t look at the intranet. You go to the smoking shelter.  There hierarchy has no place. You get the real story behind the corporate version, and you get the stories that the corporate machine hasn’t yet realised are happening.

In 2017 we all have our version of the smoking shelter. Our news and gossip travels through the likes of Twitter and the backchannels of its direct messaging system. It thrives through end-to-end encrypted chats on WhatsApp and in peer-to-peer customer exchanges on our Facebook pages.

Institutional trust isn’t designed for the digital age. No government , never mind a single organisation, can control it. The official source is now secondary.

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Over the past 17 years the Edelman Trust Barometer has surveyed tens of thousands of people about their level of trust in the sectors of business, media, government, and non-profits. This year was the first time the study found a decline in trust across all four.

It comes at a time of staggering lack of confidence in leadership: 71% of respondents said government officials are not at all or somewhat credible. 63% said the same about CEOs.

In a world where 76% of people trust leaked information over a press release, we have to rethink what trust means in a digital age.

As part of design work we are doing at Bromford – we’re beginning to redefine what we mean by organisational trust in both a colleague and customer context.

It’s easiest to think about trust in a personal relationship like marriage or a partnership. It’s built through four things:

  • A shared agreement on values, goals or ambitions
  • The behaviour that supports that agreement
  • An understanding of the implications and consequences of breaking it
  • Continued openness and honesty

Applying this to our relationship with organisations is subtly different.

We need to feel that organisations are competent and have the ability to fulfill their commitments. We need to believe they have the right motives, are benevolent, act fairly and honestly. We need to see they are transparent, that they are learning from mistakes and failure.

However, the digital age is disrupting the accepted rules of trust. No longer is a relationship solely between citizen and institution. What was once a fairly simple one to one relationship – with information limited to them directly – is now placed within a much wider context.

The network effect of technology has created a way for people to share experiences more quickly, and to more people with more detailed information than ever before.

The challenge for organisations is not for them to try to rebuild trust but to leverage the power of these new networks to do it for them. 

It means reducing the gap between organisational rhetoric and the reality.

That means it’s time to do less talking and more listening:

It means stopping saying how great your organisation is.

It means engaging rather than broadcasting.

It means defaulting to transparency.

It means people as your ambassadors rather than just the CEO.

Trust now lies in the hands of individuals, not in our organisations.

 

Building Trust and Standing Out in the Digital Age

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In many ways the events of 2016 are less a surprise and more the logical outcome of what we already knew.

As I wrote early last year – we are in an era of ‘trust deficit’ – where more people distrust institutions than believe in them.

When belief in government, business, media and nonprofits dips below 50%, you are bound to see mavericks emerge to challenge the incumbents.

At opposing ends of the spectrum Farage, Trump and Corbyn have used digital and physical networks to leverage the untapped potential in these communities.

Question is – will this mood of anti-establishment dissent sweep across the social sector?

Let’s be challenging:

  • Housing talks to housing.
  • Care talks to care.
  • Health talks to health

I could go on. It’s not so much an echo chamber as an entire galaxy of echo chambers – each their own solar system of professional bodies, conferences and award ceremonies.

If a malcontented public has taken a swipe at the political establishment for being out of touch and bureaucratic – we surely have to consider ourselves fair game too.

The only difference being we can’t be voted out.

But what if Uber really did do health, housing and social care? It seems impossible to imagine our failure to adapt and change is not being carefully watched by leaner, smarter start-ups.

As consumers we are well-informed and volatile as never before. Through pervasive social media and connectivity we are inundated with information which magnifies any grievance – real or imagined.

At Comms Hero this week Grant Leboff pointed out that we’re now so inundated with noise even Coca Cola are marketing as one brand in an effort to stand out.

The point Grant made was clear – in an age of storytelling you need to take a position. If you have no position you won’t keep attention. And most communications fail as we don’t have the balls to take a position.

Conversely there’s huge opportunity here for organisations:

  • Mediocrity doesn’t happen by accident. It’s a choice you get to make everyday. You can take a position tomorrow.
  • Trust is built through engagement and integrity -we can consider whether every action we take is a trust builder or trust killer.
  • We can enshrine transparency as part of our values – with less talk of innovation and more demonstration of our impact.

In the US election only one voter in 50 viewed both candidates as trustworthy; nearly one in three voters said neither was.

Without trust, institutions just stop working. The incumbents get disrupted. 

Many organisations have chosen to ignore the warnings about public expectations of more openness, transparency & accountability.

Any leadership team or board who are not actively building trust right now are in peril.

 

People Don’t Believe Our Organisations – Here’s Why

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There’s not a week goes by – and I mean that quite literally – in which we don’t see a sector bemoan its image problem. The launch of some campaign or other to raise awareness of a ‘message’ and get people to see the valuable contribution it makes to society.

This week it’s housing, but I could have selected almost anyone. Charities, the NHS, Financial Services – everyone, everywhere is obsessed with image.

One thing I’m certain of is that all these marketing campaigns and re-branding efforts will fail.

Here’s why: trust in institutions is eroding. And trust can only be rebuilt by actions, not words.

Imagine you’re in a relationship that starts to break down. You don’t seem to understand each other anymore. Here’s what you might do:

  • Go back to the start. Revisit the experiences that attracted you to each other in the first place.
  • Recalibrate the relationship – trying new things together.
  • Wipe the slate clean. Start afresh and reinvent yourself. A new era and new challenge.

Here’s what you absolutely would not do:

  • Start a Twitter campaign to raise awareness of your contribution to the relationship.
  • Get all your mates to agree you’re a brilliant person and tell your loved one that he/she’s mistaken.
  • Launch a new strategy to tell them what you’ll achieve over the next five years.

But time and again we see organisations adopting exactly that approach – just with the public and politicians in mind.

The issue that we face is that trust is in question. Distrust in business and government is the new normal. And you can’t rebuild trust through marketing.

Trust

The latest Edelman Trust Barometer shows that we face a truly global challenge.

In the digital age we are getting ever more astute in spotting spin, marketing and doublespeak.

The most credible sources are not your comms team, but an academic, a technical expert, a regular employee and “a person like myself”. All of these are more trusted than the people we here from the most – CEOs.

A ‘person like yourself’ builds trust – so we need to promote the voices of those engaged in frontline services, not the hierarchy.

Government is ,unsurprisingly, the least trusted institution. However non-profit organisations are also losing trust as they are perceived as ineffectual. 

In the world after Kids Company , and amid a huge decline of trust in charities, it’s no longer good enough to do good. You need to BE good.

If trust is at a tipping-point it’s a time for action not words.

To rebuild trust in our organisations we need to be more like people. Relationships in the digital age require acknowledging and accepting our human flaws. Ironically digital gives us the opportunity to be more human, to interact with people in more nuanced, intimate ways.

For organisations that means adopting behaviours of extreme transparency , honesty and sharing failure.

There are four things we need to do:

  • Default to transparency – publish everything. Even our biggest mistakes.
  • Reinvent services – not rebrand them.
  • Humanise the organisation – push our customers and colleagues to the forefront, not the bosses.
  • Forget trying to change the image of sectors – if we align ourselves with a sector we just become an average of everyone else.

Ultimately – if you really want to transform perceptions of your organisation or sector there’s only one option:

transform.

Anything else is just an expensive waste of time. 

Innovation, the Death of Email and Star Wars. My top posts of 2015

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It’s slightly self indulgent to do an end of year review of your own posts , but I do find it useful to reflect what’s gone down well and what’s not over the past 12 months.

This has been a strange year for this blog as I started off posting quite prolifically before becoming far less regular. Partly this is due to also posting on other sites , partly a lack of discipline. I’m not a big one for resolutions but I do hope to establish a more regular pattern in 2016.

That’s if individually hosted blogs continue to have importance. The rise of platforms like Medium threaten to disrupt blogging itself – making the creation of smart looking posts accessible to anyone. The way the Medium recommendation system works means you can gather a following much more quickly than working solo.

Four of the six most popular posts this year owe their success to Medium and Slideshare. Maybe we are seeing the death of single purpose sites and a move to a more distributed network of content.

Here are the top six in reverse order (links attached):

6 – The future of work community and social housing
I’m pleased this post (originally written for inside housing) was successful as it proved there is a wider audience interested in social housing. If the sector would only stop talking to itself and balance worthiness with populism – we might finally see people sit up and take notice.
5 – Six ways to kill email 
For the blogger , email is the gift that keeps on giving. Everyone hates it but hardly anyone is doing anything about it. I broke up before Christmas with six mails in my inbox. There will be six on my return. There are some great ideas in the comments section on this one.
4 – How business planning and reporting can kill innovation
Despite the cheerleading for it , few companies demonstrate a strategic understanding of innovation. In fact it is treated the same way as everything else — whether it’s forecasting pension costs or estimating annual sick day. The necessity of accepting failure as part of innovation efforts is the main point of this post.

3 – Why change fails: four ways to hack your culture 

Org Structure
This year has seen an explosion in organisational change activists. But is focussing on change as an end in itself helpful? This post tackles the main culprit: toxic cultures.

2 – How to build an innovation lab

A post that became a big slideshare success , mainly due to the brilliant illustrations of Tom Hartland. You’ll see more of them in the forthcoming Bromford Lab ebook – which we are releasing in June 2016.
1 – 20 signs you’re probably not working for a social business


This post is actually from 2014 , but I (rather cynically) gave it a lick of fresh paint to coincide with the release of The Force Awakens. It was already popular before some Asian telecoms companies picked it up – sending the Slideshare views through the roof.

The deck shows a) everyone loves Star Wars b) we all have a heck of a long way to go before we can truly call ourselves social. And c) it’s always better to get your posts shared by others than to self-promote. Also a big shout out to the providers of the wonderful images.

Thanks to everyone who has viewed, supported, challenged and shared my posts this year.
I wish you all a very happy, healthy, prosperous and social 2016.

Paul

How To Keep Your Customers Loving Your Brand

Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room” – Jeff Bezos, Founder of Amazon

Inside the wallets of Generation Y

This is one of the most interesting infographics I’ve seen recently.
  • The huge advocacy for Amazon is amazing.  95% of those surveyed say they “Love the Brand”.
  • But TUI – the German travel company that most of us know for operating Thomson and First Choice Holidays have the opposite relationship with Generation Y. An astonishing 99.4% say  the brand “is not for me”.
What have Amazon done to get pretty much 100% of an age group as fans? 
And what on earth has TUI done to disengage an entire generation?
To help us understand – I present my experiences of the two brands over the past few years.

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I’m unashamed in my love of Amazon.

Amazon , for my money , provide the best low cost customer experience in the world.

Amazon.co.uk isn’t a website – it’s a living breathing eco-system. The reason Amazon are lousy at social media is they don’t have to be good at it. It’s all contained in Amazon World.

Amazon got to know me on our first date. They discovered what I like and since then have made some really helpful recommendations.  They never let me down. When one of their suppliers has messed up they have taken full responsibility without us arguing.

They never , ever , talk about themselves. Only about me.

I have only spoken to the mythical Amazon people once. I broke my Kindle. It was my fault. But they didn’t even want to know that. All they said was – ” Mr Taylor – our priority now is to get you a new Kindle as soon as possible”. That was on a Sunday evening in a telephone call from somewhere in the US.

I had a new Kindle the following morning.

I love them and it feels like they love me too.

TUI

I love holidays. And there was a time I was in love with Thomson.  But Thomson don’t pay me much attention except when they want my money.

I used to spend a lot on them. I don’t have kids and am lucky enough to travel fairly often. I always complete their surveys on the flight back. But I’ve never once heard back from them.

I arrive home and they send me an email to say “When are you booking again?”.

Once they asked me to take part in an exercise to design a new loyalty scheme. I told them that I didn’t like their proposals but had lots of ideas I could share with them. They never got back in touch with me.

Last year I forgot to pay the balance on my holiday. By one day. It was the first time in 10 years I had ever done this.

They said they were sorry but they had resold the holiday. They had a new policy on late payments as a lot of customers were letting them down. I pointed out that I was a loyal customer with two other holidays booked with them at that time.

They said the policy applied to everyone regardless of loyalty.

They said I should speak to complaints and see if I could get my money back.

I’ve never had a bad holiday with them. But sometimes in a relationship you can get taken for granted.

It was time to call it a day whilst we were still friends.

What do these two experiences tell us?

Generation Y are no different from you or I . They like companies to engage with them and treat them like they are special. They hate companies talking about themselves – they thrive on being part of an experience. A relationship that matters.

But this post isn’t really about Amazon or TUI.

  • It’s about the Charity who takes £5 out of a donors bank account every month and keeps asking them to pay a bit more.
  • It’s about the Housing Association tenant who has been resident for 20 years without a thank you for paying their rent each and every month.
  • It’s about mobile phone providers who don’t proactively offer you reductions in your contract before your renewal date.

It’s about organisations not listening to what people are saying about them when they are not in the room.

So listen to Jeff Bezos.

Be in the room.

Does Social Housing Need To Find A Richard Branson?

A defining career moment - Support act (No.19!) to Sir Richard Branson...
A defining career moment – Support act (No.19 on the bill!) to Sir Richard Branson…

Screen Shot 2013-02-11 at 11.20.44 It’s May 2008 , and Helena Moore and I have just left the stage at the European Customer Management World Conference. We had just presented to an audience that included John Lewis , Microsoft and some young startup outfit called Facebook. People who we would now recognise as experts in marketing their product and selling their vision.

For most attending it was their first experience of Social Housing.  Our slot was about creating a service culture in a sector not known for sexiness or imagination. We used images of Shameless and Jeremy Kyle. We knew what our audience were thinking and we wanted to debunk the myths and talk about things we were proud of – the extraordinary achievements of our customers and colleagues. These are some of the comments we received:

  • “Loved it! We expected this to be the most boring slot of the day!”
  • “I really thought it would all be about people on benefits and anti-social behaviour – instead it was inspirational”
  • “I thought of council housing and the public sector as old fashioned –  not very commercial “
  • “We were dreading your slot. But I get what you are trying to do – it’s all about helping people be better – right?”

And , for your amusement , two priceless (100% genuine) comments about Helena and I :

  • “It’s good that you two didn’t wear suits – you stood out by being a bit scruffy…”
  • “We love that you guys at Bromford don’t seem to plan anything and are a bit , you know , rough”

Two years to the day after this presentation the Coalition was formed, Gordon Brown packed his bags, and the Labour Party left Government. I don’t believe the incidents were related –  my point is this – we need to forget the talk about a Government demonising social housing. We had an image problem under the last Government and we have an image problem under this one.

We have never been popular. Never been sexy. And in a world where we are all marketeers – it’s time we stopped blaming other people and started dealing with it.

whats_your_story The stories behind Bedroom Tax and Welfare Reform have tipped in the last few weeks. They have gone mainstream. Primetime TV and Tabloid coverage. Clearly we are doing something right.

About 9 months ago I did an experiment about the stories we produce within the sector. It revealed that only 8% of online content was about the people living in our homes and our communities. The rest was about us. And – as I’m sure you know – it’s not about us. 

My latest check has revealed a huge improvement. 25% of social housing output now concerns the lives of residents.  We have embraced social tools to share compelling video with a strong social narrative. We’ve done well at highlighting an issue that matters and pushing it into the public consciousness. But there is still room for improvement.

In the last two weeks a huge 40% of stories generated were about how landlords themselves are going to struggle as a result of reforms. Actual customers were briefly mentioned in passing.

The remaining 35% of output was largely introspective examinations about ( the lack of ) housing finance and development opportunity. If looked at from outside the sector could this be viewed as navel-gazing? A sector that is incapable of innovation and is now feeling sorry for itself?

Back in 2008 Sir Richard Branson headlined the conference. Quiet, unassuming and a little bit nervous – he opened his slot with four minutes of video showing every success and every failure he had been involved in. And then he talked about how he had fought off Government interference and bureaucracy , breaking into new markets by proving the unique value of what his brand could offer customers. The way he told the story of Virgin adding value to the world was electrifying.

You left the room thinking that without them the planet would be a very grey place indeed.

I wonder how Virgin, John Lewis , Facebook and Microsoft would cope with being unpopular , undervalued and underfunded?

I wonder how they would tell their story?

Maybe we should ask them.

NB: ( Statistics used come from 2 weeks monitoring of Google alerts using the search terms – Housing Association , Social Housing , Welfare Reform , Bedroom Tax)

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