Who do you trust most (and least) in a crisis?

The latest Edelman Trust Barometer makes sobering reading for corporate leaders. Trust in all institutions has fallen to levels not seen since the global financial crisis while, in half the countries surveyed, trust in business has slumped below 50 per cent.

Worryingly, the credibility of CEOs continues to decline. Only 43 per cent regard CEOs as credible, compared with academic or industry experts (70 per cent), company technical experts (67 per cent) or ‘a person like yourself’ (63 per cent.) Only government officials and regulators rank lower at 38 per cent.

The findings add to the debate about whether the CEO should be the primary spokesperson in a crisis. Quite apart from the practical issues of time and availability for media briefings, there’s the question of whether the CEO will be believed.

Hayward Quote 2

If ‘a person like yourself’ is among the most credible information sources, a CEO who is obviously not ‘a person like yourself’ faces an even bigger credibility gap.

Reflecting on the Gulf of Mexico spill, former BP CEO Tony Hayward told the Financial Times last year, “There was no way in a million years that I was ever going to connect with the citizens of Louisiana and Texas. I needed to have a role, but not the leading role.”

It would be wrong to suggest that the CEO should shy away from communicating – there is an expectation of visible leadership in a crisis. A better solution is to build a bench strength of subject matter experts and advocates to support the CEO and lend greater credibility.

Search engines more trusted as a source of news: 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer

Search engines more trusted as a source of news: 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer

Searching for News
For the first time, search engines are now the most trusted source of general news and information among informed publics, eclipsing traditional news media. Owned and social media are also increasingly trusted.

This has implications for the way organisations communicate in a crisis. Making information easy to find and share is important, as is engaging with stakeholders and credible third parties: relationships which should be in place before a crisis hits.

What the Twitter-shy CEO is missing

A recent CEO.com survey found the vast majority of US business leaders remain stubbornly unsocial.

More than two-thirds of Fortune 500 CEOs have no presence at all on any of the major social media networks. Only 42 chief executives have a Twitter account and only 69% of these are actually tweeting.

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Here in Australia, the picture is remarkably similar. Only a handful of ASX 100 CEOs have an active Twitter account. Alongside our best-known tweeter, Rupert Murdoch (@rupertmurdoch), prominent Twitter users include Wesfarmers’ Richard Goyder (@RGoyder) and Telstra’s David Thodey (@davidthodey) who uses Twitter to respond directly to customers.

The social shyness of many CEOs is understandable. They’ll tell you they don’t have the time, they don’t see the point or they’re fearful of inadvertently damaging their company’s reputation.

But those who don’t tweet are missing an opportunity to engage in a very direct and human way with customers, employees and shareholders. An online executive presence can help evolve and protect a company’s reputation, not least through its immediate responsiveness.

There’s no need for a time-poor CEO to shoulder the burden unaided. A Twitter strategy involves the communications team in calendar planning, crafting content, scheduling posts and monitoring for risks and opportunities.

The same applies for LinkedIn, a far more popular social platform among senior executives. Managing a CEO’s LinkedIn profile is now a staple job requirement for corporate communicators.

While the CEO.com survey suggests we’re not quite yet in the age of the social CEO, there are good reasons for business leaders to set their Twitter jitters aside.