Polarization triggers mistrust (Edelman Trust 2023)

Polarization is the key word this year. As I did in 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021 And 2022, I dedicate this week to comment on the results of the largest barometer we have to measure trust in institutions. It's about the Edelman Trust Barometer 2023, which has just been presented this week based on a study in 28 Countries with more than 30.000 Surveyed.

The institutions are: Governments, NGOs, Companies and Media.

Cristina Aced @Blogocorp
Cristina Aced

And besides,, This week I do it hand in hand with my admired Cristina Aced, What, according to ChatGPT, is a PhD in Communication and author of the book "Digital Narratives". His research focuses on digital communication, Digital narratives and the impact of technology on society. She has published several articles on these topics and is considered an expert in the field.. He also has professional experience in the field of digital communication, Working for companies and organizations in the development of digital strategies.

I have talked about Cristina and her digital narratives in the Soymimarca blog previously. I love how Cristina can go from the academic to the more earthly and operational without disheveling.

Returning to ours, what has happened to trust? What is this about the polarization? How it affects companies and other institutions?? How does it affect managerial reputation and personal branding??

Here's a “teaser” one-minute video:

Today the podcast is highly recommended, since you can listen to Cristina, in the episode 108 of Everything leaves Mark in iVoox, Apple Podcast, Spotify And Google Podcast.

What is polarization??

The RAE defines polarization as the action and effect of polarizing or polarizing. And polarizing – leaving aside the definitions in the field of physics – defines it as "Concentrating attention or mood on something" and as "Orienting in two opposite directions".

Landing the concept, It would be as if colors are reduced to black and white, No grayscales and no other colors. It would be like "you're with me or you're against me."

And for trust purposes, It would be like directing, manipulate and monopolize opinion to one side of the scale: left or right, Democrat or Republican, Conservative or Labour, turning one of the poles into the good and the other into the bad.

The Four Forces Driving Polarization

Edelman defines the four forces causing this phenomenon of polarization, that by the way, Not new, in the Editing 2018 already emerged with less momentum, But there it was..

Economic anxiety

Economic optimism plummets around the world: 24 of the 28 Countries record record lows in number of people who think their families will be better off five years from now.

Institutional imbalance

Companies are now the only institution considered competent and ethical; Government is seen as unethical and incompetent. Companies are pressured to fill the vacuum left by the government, Something that companies can certainly take advantage of if they know how to do it. We will elaborate on this point later..

Class Division

People in the top quartile of income live in a different reality of trust than those in the bottom quartile, with differences of more than 20 points in Thailand, United States and Saudi Arabia.

The Battle for Truth

A shared media environment has given way to echo chambers, making it difficult to collaborate problems. Not trusted, Especially, on social media.

Mistrust is the seed of polarization

Economic optimism has declined dramatically: only the 40 % of respondents say they and their families will be better off five years from now. This represents a decrease in 10 points with respect to 2022, and below 53% of the 2019.

Mistrust has also fueled polarization, Edelman reports. Few people would help, live nearby or work with someone who disagreed with their opinion of something. A fact that companies should certainly take into account, Because it doesn't just affect the diversity of teams, but also to the recruitment of talent, with all the consequences that derive from these two realities.

The company, Only institution that approves in confidence (except in Spain)

Companies are the only institutions considered competent and ethical. In fact, among those who suffer the most from polarization, Entrepreneurs are seen as the only trusted institution.

But beware, Companies will feel pressure from consumers and employees to stand up for them. Among employees, The 69% considers that having a social impact is an important expectation or a decisive factor when looking for work. Again a fact to take into account by companies, Because it influences not only the recruitment of talent, but also in their loyalty and commitment (Often called 'talent retention', Although the term does not convince us).

However, The report remains cautious. Even if more is demanded of companies on social issues, There is a risk that they will be politicized when addressing contentious issues. So if your company is working on CEO activism and personal branding for the management team, This warning should be borne in mind.

Spain is one of the 6 Countries in the world with the most severe polarization. Source: Edeman Trust Barometer 2023
Spain is one of the 6 Countries in the world with the most severe polarization.
Source: Edeman Trust Barometer 2023

Main agents of polarization

Those who most encourage polarization, as "separating forces", They are the rich and powerful, The "enemy" foreign rulers, Our own political leaders and journalists (Managers especially). 

Those who help avoid polarization and act as "unifying forces", are the teachers, NGO leaders and entrepreneurs (In the latter case, except Spain). An exception that allows many readings and whose hypotheses would give for another post...

Divisive forces exploit and intensify our differences. Edelman Trust Barometer Chart 2023
Divisive forces exploit and intensify our differences.
Source: Edeman Trust Barometer 2023

A new role for DirCom

Three new roles emerge for CEOs and Communications Executives:

  • Defend the facts and denounce the questionable science used to justify bad social policy.
  • Withdraw advertising money from platforms that spread disinformation.
  • Support politicians and media that build consensus and cooperation.

What sources of information do we trust the most??

A surprising fact in each edition of the barometer is that the most reliable source of information are search engines such as Google, Bing, ...(63), followed by traditional media (59). 

They suspend their own media, as corporate websites (47), and especially social networks (41). Data that invite reflection and can lead us to rethink the content strategy of the company and the weight we should give to each type of media. It seems that earned media are still the best allies to improve reputation and trust in the organization: Nothing better than other people who speak well of her.

Minimal increase in trust in our sources of information. Source: Edelman Trust Barometer 2023
Minimal increase in trust in our sources of information.
Source: Edelman Trust Barometer 2023

In fact, Edelman's report also reminds us that the cycle of trust has been changing.: started out vertically, from top to bottom, and then become horizontal, first between pairs and, Now it's becoming more local.


Given Edelman's data, Cristina Aced and Guillem Recolons propose three actions for companies, especially the Spanish ones.

  • Branding: It is not a question of defining a Corporate purpose, It's about giving life and involving all employees, External shareholders and stakeholders. Values must also be considered to be human., So they can't design brand values without seriously considering the human values of managers.
  • Address: It is essential to work on the Management reputation, Not just passively or reactively (After reputation problems) But Proactive: Identify, Working and projecting the managerial personal brand is essential, as well as the aspects of spokesperson and crisis communication. All this always with the precaution of avoiding falling into politicization when addressing controversial issues.
  • Communication: The Brand engagement It necessarily goes through the Engagement of managers and professionals organization, especially those that bring greater confidence: technical experts (R & d, Production, Marketing, Sales). Employee Advocacy Programs (internal brand ambassadors) They would be of great help to boost that engagement. In addition, Do not forget that corporate reputation is, To a large extent, The sum of the reputations of the people who make it up.

If your company needs an improvement of Confidence, reinforcement of Branding, Improvement of the Reputation and improved engagement or engagement communication, Cristina Aced and Guillem Recolons have developed a tailor-made program based on our knowledge, But, especially, in our experience as managers, consultants and facilitators.

Sources consulted: 

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