TORONTO–Canada’s trust levels in government, leaders and most information sources remain stable and strong, but social media networks and the artificial intelligence (AI) sector are both at a crossroads, according to the 2018 Proof Inc. (formerly Environics Communications Inc.) CanTrust Index, an annual study of trust levels among Canadians. Overall, the study found the average trust score for all types of institutions increased slightly to 45 in 2018 from 43 in 2017.

Facebook falls
The annual study found that trust in Facebook fell dramatically, with a 17-point drop in trust in one year from 51% in 2017 to 34% in 2018. Distrust of the company is consistent across all ages, gender and geography in Canada. Trust in Facebook’s news feed fell in recent years from 31% in 2016 to 19% in 2017 and is now mired at 18%. Overall trust in social media platforms has been stuck in the low twenties for three years and is stagnant at 22% in 2018. Despite this trust deficit, it is noteworthy that 76% of Canadians still report themselves as weekly users of Facebook.

“Trust is the lifeblood of any organization or brand, and a company’s inability to quickly react and respond in a crisis is problematic given the immediacy of today’s news cycle,” said Proof Inc. CEO Bruce MacLellan. “Though our study was fielded before Facebook’s recent privacy scandal, the company has been slow to manage this issue – which could further damage their brand and lead to a further decline in consumer trust.”

Low trust for AI
Notwithstanding the current “AI gold rush” occurring in Canada, Proof Inc.’s CanTrust Index reveals a genuine mistrust of AI. Only one in four Canadians (25%) say they trust this industry category, pulled lower by Canadians over age 50 (at only 18%). For those ages 18-24 years old, the trust is above the national average at 33%.

“With the rise of the surveillance society, social media platforms and the AI sector now face a trust tipping point,” said MacLellan. “As algorithms track online behaviour, listening tools pattern the words and tone of conversations, and social media platforms share personal data, society will need to build consensus on what is acceptable and permitted.”

Trust levels are also low for the perceived impact of AI on Canada. Only 38% of Canadians trust AI to contribute positively to the Canadian economy. Similarly, only 37% trust AI to improve their experience as consumers. Importantly, a group of Canadians are on the fence about AI, with 30% reporting that they neither trust nor distrust AI to positively impact the economy or the consumer experience.

“Artificial intelligence can do a lot of things from medical diagnoses to improving search engine results, but it has work to do as an industry to educate the public of its uses and many benefits,” said Vanessa Eaton, Senior Vice President at Proof Inc. “At this critical juncture, companies should act quickly to build trust, swaying these neutral consumers in their favour.”

Trust in CEOs and senior bosses still highest; trust in Premiers lowest
For a third year,  the Proof Inc. CanTrust Index asked Canadians about their trust in the leaders in their lives. Once again, Canadians ranked their CEO or most senior boss as the leader they trust the most at 55%, up from 51% in 2017. Québec residents scored their bosses higher at 58%. Close behind were mayors at 52%, the Governor-General at 48% and the Prime Minister at 46%. Premiers ranked last at 33%, pulled down significantly by Ontarians with only 29% trust for their Premier.

“Our made-in-Canada trust study digs deep into what makes our country unique, including larger samples of new Canadians and Québec residents, as well as evaluating trust for specific Canadian institutions such as the CBC, the Governor-General and the RCMP,” added Bruce MacLellan. “All organizations need a trust building strategy, and our study points to the best ways to connect with Canadians.”

Newcomers: the window of trust
New Canadians who have been here for fewer than 15 years are more likely to trust everything from leaders and institutions to brands and content. Trust decreases among newcomers as they spend more time in Canada, with trust among those in the country for 15 or more years mirroring those who were born in Canada. This 15-year window of trust presents a marketing opportunity for many organizations looking to build rapport with this growing population, by understanding and reflecting back the experiences of new Canadians in their communications.

Not-for-profit sector grows as the trust leader; news media holds steady
The overall pecking order when it comes to levels of trust in Canada’s major sectors shows the not-for-profit sector continues to be most trusted, by 61% (up from 57% last year) of respondents to do what is right for Canada, Canadians and our society. Notwithstanding concerns about “fake news” in some countries, the news media in Canada ranks second at 51%, virtually the same as 50% in 2017. Small and medium sized businesses rank third at 45%, up slightly from 41% last year. Governments rank next at 39%, a virtually identical result to 2016 and 2017. Large corporations retain their hold on last place at 28%.

Product sampling and word-of-mouth still top-trusted information sources
Canadians continue to trust people they know, as well as their direct experience with products and brands, more than any other sources of information about a brand, service or product. This year, 76% of study participants cite sampling a product or service as a trusted method to receive information about a brand, product or organization (up from 73% in 2016). Word-of-mouth recommendations from people they know also came in tied for first place at 76%, which is on par with our year-over-year data.

“We see how attitudes and behaviours change when people are given an opportunity to experience a product first-hand or learn about a new service from a trusted, knowledgeable source,” said Lisa Barrans, president of Proof Experiences.

Editorial content, or stories in media like newspapers, TV, radio or online news sites, remains the third most trusted source of information, with a trust score of 54%. People in Québec have higher trust levels in traditional and online editorial content (at 63%).

Too many companies are building profits but forgetting to build trust
Public sector Canada is easily winning the race for trust versus private sector Canada, and the gap is widening. Canadians trust and like their government services, with very high trust levels in hospitals (63%), colleges/universities (63%) and police forces (64%). Transit operators do well at 52%.

On the private sector side, Bombardier’s trust levels are grounded after plummeting 20 points from 56% in 2017 to 36% in 2018, the largest drop for any organization or category in the survey. Pulled up only in Québec (51%), the company has spent the past year defending executive compensation, seeking government aid and apologizing for the slow delivery of transit vehicles.

With 275+ awards for client work and industry leadership, the independently owned Proof family of companies (Proof Inc., Proof Experiences Inc., Proof Strategies) have over 175 staff members in offices in Toronto, Montréal, Ottawa, Vancouver and Washington, DC. Annual fee income exceeded $30 million in 2017. As a brand steward to some of North America’s most respected and well-known companies, the firm’s strategic approach is guided by data-driven research, deep subject expertise, smart creative and meticulous measurement. Proof Inc. (formerly Environics Communications) was named IABC/Toronto’s Large Agency of the Year in both 2014 and 2015, ranking #6 on the Great Place to Work® 2016 list of Canada’s Best Workplaces for Women, and #13 overall. A corporate leader in the age of climate change, Proof Inc. has been carbon neutral since 2008.

About the Proof Inc. CanTrust Index
The 2018 Proof Inc. CanTrust Index, based upon an annual online survey of a sample of 1,560 Canadians 18+ years of age, was conducted between January 18 to February 5, 2018. It is nationally representative by region, age and gender. For more information, visit CanTrustIndex.ca.

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