Trust Is the Currency for Success

When the World Association of Newspapers and Publishers released its World Press Trends report this year, it chose the headline: “Trust is the new currency for success.” According to that report, the make-or-break factor when it comes to the news media is “no doubt” trust––despite the fact that trust in the traditional media might be at an all-time low.

But this trend is not exclusive to the media. In my line of work we are noticing a similar trend. Very wealthy individuals are becoming less and less concerned with how much money they have and far more preoccupied with giving back, such as by using their status to speak about issues facing their industries or the wider world. Only now it is trust, not attention, that is the deciding factor in their ability to reach their intended audience. And at the same time, ultra high net worth individuals themselves are becoming more interested in how people perceive them.

There are a number of reasons why this trend has taken hold. First of all, with the rise of the internet, and social media in particular, life has become increasingly public. People take parts of their private lives, from what they had for breakfast to the latest film they saw, into the public realm through Facebook and Twitter. With that comes an expectation that business leaders and celebrities should do the same. CEOs, for example, are under more pressure than ever before to take a center stage on political issues. And anyone found to be doing something underhanded or downright immoral is soon found out. The recent allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein have led everybody to wonder what skeletons are hiding in the closets of other household names.

But the relative ease with which we can all become celebrities has also blurred the line between celeb or CEO and the “ordinary” public. We hold our celebrities by the same standards that we hold our friends and colleagues. We’re more concerned with the substance of our leaders in the modern day. And on the other side of the fence, those leaders are also concerned that they are seen to be trustworthy people.

If one of my clients wants to appear to be trustworthy and authoritative, they have to be both those things in the first place.

You can’t PR something that isn’t real. If one of my clients has something to say to the world and they want to appear to be trustworthy and authoritative, they have to be both those things in the first place. It’s part of my job is to harness those qualities and make them perceptible to the client’s audience. As much as I would like to think I was able to, I can’t wave a magic wand and turn a bad person into a paragon of virtue—which is probably a good thing.

Trustworthiness, or having a good reputation, is becoming a new status symbol. As social media pulls back the curtain, celebrities and leaders in all industries are increasingly being admired for their honesty, their self-deprecation and their “normality,” as much as for their talent. Glamour and success still retain their appeal, but warmth, candor and relatability––three of the qualities that convey trust in spades––are now seen as fundamental to thought leadership. It’s why, according to an increasing body of evidence, YouTube stars are outstripping mainstream stars in popularity in key demographics: They seem trustworthy.

At the reputation management practice I run we are unapologetically unorthodox. I represent individuals, not companies, and every individual is different, which means they require a strategy tailored just for them. But that isn’t to say that there aren’t principles that apply to everyone. I encourage my clients to give a little of themselves when they can, and we pepper the content we make and curate for our clients with enough personality to show them to be the human beings that they are. Cold and corporate public personas are excellent defense mechanisms, but if you want to make an impact in the wider industry or the wider world you have to show just a bit of vulnerability.

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