Trust in South Korea

The wall to the Park just by the Blue House in Seoul, home of the President of South Korea.

It has been a bad year for trust in Korea pretty much across the board.  Not as catastrophic as Japan where Trust has imploded in the aftermath of the disasters there, but pretty significantly.  Korea is the 17th most trusting of the 25 nations we survey.  Only Japan is now less trusting in the whole of Asia Pacific.

So…that decline by the numbers:  trust in business had gone from 46% last year to 31% this year; media from 53% to 45% and government trust has collapsed from 50 to 33% (bear in mind the data was collected in October/November).  Only NGOs have seen a rise in their trust score from 62% to 67%.

But that’s not the worst of it.  When we unpack the trust in business question a little more we find that trust in consumer packaged goods companies has declined by 21%; Telecom has declined by 32%; financial services by 25% and Banks by 29%.  The only sectors to escape large scale declines in trust were automotive and technology so I guess that means Samsung (client) and Hyundai can relax a little, but the rest of Korea inc really needs to address this issue to effectively promote and protect their interests.

So why the big changes given that the Korean economy has largely weathered the economic storm buffeting most developed countries? Probably a number of small stories rather than one big one.  The foot and mouth epidemic and the fear of contaminated produce from Japan can’t have helped confidence in food safety; unlike those in the rest of the region, Korean savings banks continued to suffer from their lending splurge prior to 2008 and cost of the constant re-structuring and suicide of three CEOs will have done nothing to raise confidence that the sector was well run.  There were fears about energy security in the wake of two nuclear generators ceasing to operate and all of this was overshadowed by the controversy around the free trade agreement with the US which highlighted  where protected Korean industry had perhaps not been offering the best of deals to customers and consumers.

And probably the single stat that symbolises this discontent with Korean business is the fact that the CEO is now only the sixth most trusted of information on his or her own firm dropping 35% from last year.

And in politics the head of an NGO became the mayor of Seoul; surely highlighting discontent with the existing parties and leadership.

In this environment of skepticism, it is perhaps not surprising that 64% of Koreans now need to hear a message between 3 and 5 times to believe it.

But there is also a clear lesson on how to rebuild trust in Korean companies from the study.  When we asked people to rank the most important attributes for building trust in a company they emphasised societal more than operational features. The list reads:
1.) Listens to customer feedback,
2.) takes actions to address issues or crises,
3.) high quality products or services,
4.) treats employees well,
5.) has transparent and open business
6.) places customers ahead of profits,
7.) communicates frequently and honestly,
8.) has ethical business practices,
9.) works to protect and improve the environment,
10.) ranks on a global list.

A pretty good engagement agenda for any communicator.


SB Jang, General Manager, Edelman Korea

About the Study

The 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer includes responses from over 30,000 people across 25 countries. The survey, which is in its 12th year, now also includes responses from 1000 general publics (as distinguished from informed publics) in each surveyed market. Steve Lombardo, the CEO of StrategyOne – Edelman’s Independent Research Firm – explains in this video how the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer was designed, and the opportunities to analyze trust around the world, and across a variety of industries, that the survey data provides.

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