Despite new digital channels and the public’s increased access to information about corporate business practices, Americans are finding it difficult to hold companies accountable for their actions, according to new research from Hill+Knowlton Strategies.

Results revealed a significant deterioration of trust in government and business since 2010, as less than one-third (30 percent) of those surveyed trust the government to do what is right, and just 35 percent trust corporations to do what is right—down from 53 percent and 45 percent, respectively, in September 2010.

“The results of the survey confirm what we already suspected, that there is an increased distrust in government and business,” says Dan Bartlett, president and CEO of Hill+Knowlton Strategies US, who adds: “What these data tell us is the public desires a more honest and open dialogue with corporations, and corporate America would be wise to listen.”

More than half of Americans (52 percent) feel that they have more access to information about the business practices of corporations, but only 30 percent feel like it is easier to hold companies accountable for their actions. David Iannelli, global president of the firm’s Research+Data Insights group, says he believes that companies have failed to keep pace with the volume and variety of information channels available to the public in the social media era.

Perhaps as a result, while more than nine-in-ten (94 percent) think integrity should be a priority for US corporations, only 22 percent believe US corporations make integrity a priority.

The poll also found that 90 percent of those surveyed cited a “friend or family member” as the most trusted source of information on policy or product issues related to US corporations. In fact, less than four-in-ten say they would trust the boards of directors (39 percent), company spokespersons (30 percent), government officials (30 percent) or CEOs (30 percent).

"Public and private organizations benefit from evaluating who delivers their messages and how the messages are relayed to the public in this new era of communications." says Peter Zandan, global vice chair and head of the research and insights group. "Over a third of the American public say they no longer trust the traditional spokespeople for private and public organizations." 

Ianelli, meanwhile, points to a finding that suggests corporations should localize their communications efforts whenever possible. Meeting with key community leaders (62 percent) and meeting with local chambers of commerce (59 percent) were the two highest rated ways to meaningfully communicate with the public. Those groups, he says, are viewed as highly representative of their local communities.