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Trust in Hong Kong institutions falls to all-time low

Trust levels in Hong Kong have reached an all-time low.

The fourth annual Hong Kong results of the 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer show the public’s trust in government, media, NGOs and business has slipped to its lowest ratings since the PR firm began surveying the Special Administrative Region in 2011.

Hong Kong has dropped from being the fifth most “trusting” nation in 2013 (67% overall institutional trust) to seventeenth out of 27 markets surveyed (47%).

While it may be easy to point to a disruptive 2014, where the Umbrella movement dominated headlines, the answer is not so clear cut.

Bob Grove, North Asia CEO at Edelman, told Marketing that Occupy does not tell the story of the climate of trust in Hong Kong in its entirety.

“There were significant occurrences leading up to Occupy and separate from it,” he said.

Grove cited a litany of controversies across all institutions involving senior government officials, business leaders and members of the media.

These included the trial of Rafael Hui, former Secretary for Administration for corruption charges and the investigation of Apple Daily’s Jimmy Lai for allegedly donating millions to political parties.

Among all major social institutions, the media was the hardest hit, with trust levels dropping from 63 points to 41 points.

The Hong Kong drop, however, was part of a widespread distrust in the media across the region, where trust levels in seven of the 11 Asia Pacific nations Edelman surveyed dropped.

“The traditional media’s role in covering the democracy protests was viewed as polarised and biased, helping it to become hugely undermined by social media,” said David Brain, president and chief executive officer at Edelman Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa.

Interestingly, for the first time, search engines were viewed as the most trusted media source, used first and most often to find or verify news.

Marketing caught up with Bob Grove to find out what’s behind the poor Hong Kong result.

How would you describe the results for Hong Kong? Because on the face of it, they look bad. NGOs, government, media and business have all slipped – on top of an overall dip.

For the first time, this evaporation of trust is seen among all four institutions, with particularly grim findings for media and NGOs, which saw the most significant drops in trust year-over-year. These drastic results are a wake-up call for Hong Kong institutions to move beyond protecting reputation as a defence mechanism to thinking about how they will actively re-build trust. And then they have to act on it.

Last year’s Trust Barometer was the worst public opinion result for the SAR government and the private sector since the survey started in 2011. This has continued to slide. Is there anything positive to glean from Hong Kong’s results?

There were a few bright spots, including an important one for the private sector. Three quarters (75%) of Hongkongers believe businesses can simultaneously increase profits and improve social conditions where they operate. The understanding of trust as a business facilitator is rising in many parts of the region and indeed globally. Business in Hong Kong has an opportunity to lead, but appears to be slower on the uptake of trust as a critical driver of business strategy. Siloed corporate responsibility programmes are appreciated, however, stakeholders expect a much more planned approach for business to move beyond “what they do” to “how they do it.” The research shows there is a direct impact from trust to business performance, beyond reputation.

Is it fair to say Hong Kong is slightly skewed this year against a backdrop of the Umbrella / Occupy movement?

The most notable events in 2014 of course surround the city’s unprecedented civil disobedience movement. However, we urge that this year’s trust data is most accurately viewed not as a direct output of Occupy, but rather that Occupy is a symptom of the longer term trend of declining trust in Hong Kong across all four institutions.

For example, last year’s Trust Barometer data had foreshadowed the mounting uncertainty surrounding the city, with the government experiencing an 18-point drop in trust – the largest drop of any country surveyed last year. This year, the government saw another three-point decline following the 2014 fall, demonstrating continuation of a distrusting sentiment. It is with this wider socio-economic context that the 2015 results are best understood to reveal broader and more insightful trends, and how institutions can rebuild.

Where can these HK institutions go from here?

While operating in an environment of deteriorated trust, Hong Kong institutions have the opportunity to rebuild. Local institutions will need to collaborate to rebuild together, by acting with authenticity and integrity, communicating transparently, and engaging the public openly. Undoubtedly, these trends help demonstrate an opportunity for business to take a broader, more collaborative leadership role in deepening trust and ensuring Hong Kong’s future as a thriving international business center. If companies don’t act now, it can become increasingly difficult to recover.

People are more trusting of Hong Kong companies that have transparent business practices, offer high quality products or services, and work to protect and improve the environment. However, each of these attributes have performance gaps upwards of 20%. These insights provide an actionable roadmap for companies to follow. Equally important to note is that financial performance is not necessarily perceived as having the most impact on trust. It’s a cliché but worth repeating: we have moved from a shareholder world to a stakeholder world.

If people don’t trust media, NGOs, business or government – who do they trust?

While trust levels are at historic lows in Hong Kong, each of the institutions have varying amounts of enduring trust. For example, despite a 14-point drop this year, NGOs remain the most trusted institution in Hong Kong at 63% overall.

 
Matt Eaton

Marketing Magazine Hong Kong
Based in Hong Kong since 2007, Matt is highly active in the Asia wide marketing community, overseeing the Marketing brand across print, online and social in addition to hosting live events across the region from the Luxury Marketing Summit, Agency of the Year and Loyalty Marketing Asia.

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