By Steve Mast
Over the past five years, the notion of “truth” has become all too flexible, transparency has become a buzzword instead of a policy, and the result is a deep erosion of trust in every institution. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in government, business, NGOs, and media have all dropped over the course of the last year – reaching all-time lows.
Some specific results from the Trust Barometer which should be alarming to all of us are that 57% of people globally agree: “Our government leaders are purposely trying to mislead people by saying things they know are false or gross exaggerations.” 56% say the same about CEOs, and 59% agreed to the same statement about journalists.
Well over half of the global population does not trust that leaders of any kind are telling the truth. Politicians are getting caught in lies or corruption, business leaders are being called out for shady practices, and media is being put on notice for having heavily biased reporting. Technology, and in particular video and social media, has enabled this revealing of truths, and there is no turning back now. We have entered the Age of Truth.
It would not be possible to achieve our purpose of transforming the way data is collected, protected and used without doggedly pursuing transparency and trust in all that we do. It is no great secret that data is, and will continue to be, an integral part of not only technological advancements, but our advancement as a society that trusts again.
One critical way data can both improve businesses and rebuild trust is to get it first-hand. Automated Research Platforms can provide the opportunity for anyone, researcher or otherwise, to quickly gather reliable feedback directly from the people they serve. Not only does incorporating this kind of agile research process improve the results of campaigns or new product development, but it helps to establish trust between brands and consumers by opening up a dialogue and taking away the smoke and mirrors.
This desire for a two-way relationship between organizations and their audiences is a piece of a much larger trend in data privacy. As much as the Age of Truth will depend upon data to be successful, it will depend on the proper protection of that data. Too many people have now experienced the trauma of a breach of their data thanks to one company or another not having the right safeguards in place. Too many people have been put off by the sneaky tracking of their data without their consent.
As much as technology has made it possible for these breaches of data security, it can also be the key to solving them and giving individuals back the control they are seeking. For example, a blockchain-powered marketplace that gives users control of their own data. It is a way of embedding transparency into data collection, and giving individuals the autonomy they need to rebuild trust in the organizations that collect and use their data.
Another issue with the collection of data is that respondents are not always entirely truthful, or can be impacted by other circumstances in the moment of their response. Virtual consumer panels made up of “Animated Personas” are now used to mimic the behaviours, responses and evolving interests of real consumers. The Animated Personas don’t have bad days, or feel compelled to hide certain thoughts, feelings, or behaviours. While they are primarily used for marketing purposes currently, their potential to help get reliable, honest feedback is immense.
The Age of Truth has been brought on, in many ways, because of advancements in technology. Technology is also what will enable it to reach its full potential and truly transform society. But even if you are not in the technology space, that doesn’t mean you can’t be an important part of this transformation. You can contribute most importantly by looking at your own organization and asking, where can we be more transparent? How can we open up our data in a productive way? If there are areas that feel “unsafe” to be transparent about, examine why, and if practices need to change.
I foresee a great deal of upheaval over the coming years as the Age of Truth progresses. Systems that have long been allowed to operate in the shadows will now be under a spotlight. People will continue to demand facts over rhetoric, and the ability to check the data for themselves. First-party data will once again become the gold-standard, and the protection of this data will become a key factor in the trust of any organization. The organizations and leaders that do not fulfil the expectations of truth and transparency will fail, and those that embody these values will be the ones to take us into a new world. It will be in this new world that trust is rebuilt and, hopefully, a more equitable and just society is formed.
Steve Mast is the President and Chief Innovation Officer of Delvinia, a data collection firm that has captured more than 180 million opinions and created the automated market research platform Methodify, recognized as one of the GRIT top 50 most innovative companies in the world.