Trust, misinformation and expectations: 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals key insights for PR pros

Did you know?

September was PRSA Ethics Month and this was our annual ethics program!


Each year, global communications firm Edelman releases the Edelman Trust Barometer, their annual survey that measures trust and credibility of the world’s major institutions. This year’s report revealed an epidemic of misinformation and mistrust in the major institutions, industries and leaders across the globe.


Dan McDonald, Executive Vice President and Global Client Lead of FedEx at Edelman, recently joined our chapter to present many meaningful, real-world insights from the survey. Here are five key takeaways for PR professionals:

1. Employees expect their employers to take a stand on societal and political issues—and failing to do so is often a “deal breaker.”

Approximately 1 in 3 employees report that they left a job because their employer remained silent on an important issue. When considering a job, 70% of respondents expect to have a chance to address social problems through their role. Authentic commitments to critical social issues like the environment and DEI are critical to meeting employee expectations.

2. People expect business leaders to use their power to influence positive social change.

The majority of respondents (61%) believe our country will not be able to overcome our challenges without business’ involvement. In many social roles traditionally performed by government, such as health and public safety, business is not only seen as having a key obligation but is viewed to be outperforming government.

3. Experts, peers and the CEOs of one’s own employer are viewed as the most credible spokespeople.

More than half of respondents viewed people in each of these categories as “very/extremely credible” sources of information. Meanwhile, a majority of respondents believe that government leaders, business leaders and journalists are intentionally trying to mislead people. Among internal spokespeople, co-workers and direct managers were viewed as the most trusted.

4. People are much more concerned about the threat of misinformation as a result of the pandemic.

Among respondents, 64% believe we are in an “information crisis.” Only 30% report that they always believed this to be true, while the pandemic has influenced an additional 34% to believe this.

5. Trust in traditional news media is at an all-time low, while owned media gained trust.

In May 2021, 52% of respondents reported that they trust traditional media, a notable decrease from 69% in May 2020. Owned media, while still less trusted than traditional media, was the only source for general news and information to gain trust during the first half of 2021. Social media remains the least trusted source of information with only 34% of respondents indicated that they trust social media.


A thorough reading of the Edelman Trust Barometer 2021 Global Report yields even more useful insights for PR pros in internal and external communications roles. Other resources from Edelman include their article, The Belief-Driven Employee.


The PRSA Detroit Chapter Ethics Committee is immensely grateful to Dan McDonald for presenting this important information.


Meghan Lehman, APR, is a non-profit communications director in the Detroit area and a member of the PRSA Detroit ethics committee.