A new poll conducted by Toronto PR firm Environics Communications has found that Canadians trust non-profit organizations and the news media a lot more than they trust corporations of any size, and that they trust social media and pipelines proposed by the energy sector least of all.
The inaugural CanTrust Index, which polled 1,001 Canadians over the age of 18 from February 29 to March 7, finds that, “Social media platforms and energy, pipeline and resource firms have the most work to do to improve trust.”
We already knew that oil pipelines have fairly disastrous public relations challenges, but social media? Social media was supposed to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, when it comes to helping earn the trust of the public.
The survey’s 1,001 respondents are divided into several demographic subgroups, with 76% born in Canada and 24% born elsewhere, and was spread more or less evenly geographically, as well as according to age, gender, language, income, education levels, and marital status.
62% of respondents identify as home owners, while 29% either rent or lease, and 56% identify as a household’s primary shopper, while 38% don’t have the responsibility of shopping for the group.
The survey breaks down social media use by identifying the platforms that respondents use at least once per week, with Facebook at 74%, YouTube at 64%, Google+ at 34%, LinkedIn at 30%, Twitter at 24%, Instagram at 19%, Pinterest at 18%, and “none of the above” at 8%, leaving some room presumably for niche platforms like SnapChat or Kik.
What’s clear when it comes to this lack of trust of social media is not so much an unwillingness to use the platforms themselves as a queasy feeling about how each person’s data is being handled by social media companies.
“We found low levels of trust in social media companies (26%) and it has to be connected to privacy and how data is used is a big issue,” says the report. “Social platforms know everything you do. Even with user rates at three quarters of the adult population, these companies should not equate popularity with trust.”
The survey presents an interesting paradox when it comes to social media as a source of information, too, owing to the fact that it simultaneously urges public figures and organizations to find ways to become more open and accessible, but also finds that Canadians trust social media platforms themselves to the same degree as they do oil pipelines.
Politicians who are social media savvy, such as Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi, Toronto’s Norm Kelly, Montreal’s Denis Coderre, or Prime Minister Trudeau have earned high approval ratings at least partly through cultivating the perception that they are “accessible”, but that may have more to do with empathy and relatability as with their ease around Twitter.
“Social platforms know everything you do. Even with user rates at three quarters of the adult population, these companies should not equate popularity with trust.” – CanTrust Index
In other areas of trust, the survey found that Canadian-owned companies enjoy a trust premium of 64% approval, with 69% of respondents saying that they’re more likely to trust companies that create jobs and invest in local communities, 68% companies that deliver enjoyable products and services, and 67% companies that are perceived as open and accessible.
As far as trust in leadership goes, 52% of respondents say they trust the CEO or most senior boss at their workplace “to do what is right for Canada, Canadians and Society”, just above their community’s mayor (50%) and the Prime Minister (46%).
The survey also makes clear that “popular mayors in Calgary and Toronto help boost the national score,” adding that, “They actively engage with people in highly transparent ways, from attending events in person to constantly using social media. Prime Minister Trudeau sets a great example as an open and communicative leader.”
Interestingly, when it comes to media, the survey makes clear that Canadians don’t care for the way that journalism is being eroded by the need to be first to report a breaking story regardless of accuracy, just as it is also being eroded by clickbait churnalism.
“78% of Canadians prefer accuracy over speed when it comes to breaking news events,” says the report. “For some, this is a referendum on real journalism versus citizen journalism. The Canadian news media can enhance their trust reputation by becoming more assertive about reporting what is known, as opposed to rumours and speculation.”
In that sense, then, the survey represents good news for mainstream media outlets as validation that Canadians trust them, even if it doesn’t exactly help save their business model from disappearing under a wave of clickability and social sharing, not to mention preserving the idea of journalism as an instrument for the public good.