Trust and transparency

The Internet is often described as a web, connecting people across the globe, but in many ways, it also functions as a window—armed with unprecedented access to information; potential customers and clients can easily see which companies are worthy of their business, and which are not. As skepticism is almost second-nature to modern internet users, trust is one of the most valuable qualities a business can achieve.

Gaining trust might seem like a simple goal for a company to accomplish, however, businesses throughout the world are continuously working against established negative perceptions. According to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, only 52% of people from around the globe trust the business world.

One of the ways businesses are increasingly establishing trust is through transparency. According to accounting firm PwC, trust is more likely when a company exhibits authenticity and transparency in all aspects of its business—marketing, financial results, hiring practices, etc.—rather than simply relying on the strengths of its products or services alone. This hasn’t always been the case; principles of trust have shifted over the years in response to economic climates, innovation, and other outside factors.

Data from PwC show that from the 1920s-1960s, consumers tended to trust businesses that shared common interest and values. From the 1960s-1980s, the threat of consequences from regulators or other outside parties kept business trust in line. Since then, trust has been enabled by transparency and information more than anything else, which means businesses can no longer withhold or cleverly reshape information without consequence.

Being accountable through transparent business practices not only presents companies with a significant opportunity to increase customer loyalty, improve service, and boost brand awareness—a strong perception of trustworthiness can lead to measurable growth. According to Timothy Erblich, CEO of The Ethisphere Institute, firms that rank among the World’s Most Ethical Companies outperformed the S&P 500 by 3.3% in 2015. In addition, companies that practice transparency won’t be tainted by association when another company in the same industry displays an action that lacks integrity.

Of course, when it comes to the positive effect of transparency and trust on a business, the opposite is also true. Companies that “spin” unfavorable information or try to conceal it will be quickly dismissed and forgotten by potential clients, or in a worst-case scenario, vilified online in social media and popular review sites. Trust can take years to build, but it only takes one perceived brush with dishonesty to destroy it completely.

So whether a company is launching a new marketing campaign, offering informative content on their website, or even dealing with the fallout of a negative news story, transparency should always be the guiding factor to action.