How Podcasts Build Trust (Case Study)

When I was growing up I was taught that the people you can trust the most are Priests, Politicians, and Tony Parsons. Tony was the anchor of Global News at 6 (our local TV station). But the last group I was taught to “look to” were companies. Which is why I was so surprised to read 2021’s Edelman Trust Barometer, which launched in January. After an insane 2020, business has emerged as the most trusted global institution.

The annual survey asked respondents how much it trusted various institutions. Business was the most trusted at 61%, ahead of  NGOs (57%), government (53%) and the media (51%). Business was the only institution considered to be both ethical and competent.

In fact Edelman says we are waving the red flag and declaring INFORMATION BANKRUPTCY And its eroding trust.


This collapse in trust in public sources of information is having real-world consequences. Watch the news and see the scores of people who do not trust the COVID-19 vaccine, let alone the actual pandemic. And then there is the US election…

The public expects businesses to restore trust and tackle important issues.

We know that podcasts can play a role in restoring trust and tackling social issues. Here are five ways that businesses can use podcasts to respond to this urgent call for action:

1. Use your podcast to embrace authentic purpose

The report found heightened awareness on key social issues. These include access to healthcare and education, climate change, and poverty.

There is no better time than now for brands to embed a sense of social purpose in their content. A podcast is the perfect delivery medium.

In September 2020, Ben & Jerry’s launched the “Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America” podcast. The podcast takes a look at the lesser-known history of racial injustice in the United States. It is about how legally enforced discrimination and state-sanctioned brutality continue. And it educates through interviews and stories.

Ben & Jerry’s has embedded purpose into its core business activities. The brand isn’t afraid to have conversations about difficult topics (like racism). So the goal of “Who We Are” is to educate and encourage audiences to dismantle systemic racism.

According to Jabari Paul, Ben & Jerry’s US Activism Manager: “We have been lifting the lid on systemic racism and criminal justice reform over the last few years, and are excited to bring this story to our fans.”

2. (If done well) leaders can use podcasts for transformational change within their organizations

The report reveals that CEOs are under a weight of expectations to drive social change. 86% expect CEOs to speak out on societal challenges. These include the pandemic, societal issues, job automation, and problems facing local communities. Over two-thirds of the respondents expect CEOs to step in when the government does not fix societal problems.

But, we don’t trust any of the leaders that the Trust Barometer tracks. These include CEOs, government leaders, journalists, and even religious leaders. None are trusted to do what’s right, with drops in trust scores for all. CEO credibility is at an all-time low in several countries. And 56% of respondents believe business leaders are trying to mislead people. So, while they expect CEOs to drive change, they don’t trust what comes out of their mouth.

People feel more empowered to demand change:

  • 50% of the employees reported they are more likely to voice their objections to management or engage in workplace protests.

  • Two-thirds believe in the power of consumers and employees to force corporations to change.

Business leaders need to communicate more, not less. And because of their innate ability to be engaging and intimate, podcasts can take an expanded role in social issues and be a catalyst for change. But the podcast must be great.

JAR Audio has produced a few internal podcasts. The first was the lululemon Leadership, which was available to their 3500+ staff globally with the objective of making them feel more connected to HQ. The other was for Saje Natural Wellness. Essential Ideas featured Co-Founders Kate and Jean-Pierre LeBlanc as they shared their insights and perspective on what it means to take control of your own health.

In both cases, the internal podcasts were a success. Here’s what we learned:

The podcasts were engaging content. Now is not the time for “safe” content. For transformational change to occur, push boundaries. Difficult conversations need to be had. And podcast listeners (more than any other medium) expect it. With lululemon Leadership, we dug into challenging conversations around gender, identity, honesty, and candor in the workplace.

The podcasts didn’t push company policy. Who wants to spend time listening to that? While an internal podcast might be a good opportunity to talk about the company (occasionally) employees are going to tune in more when the content is varied and interesting. Leaders should lean into telling great stories. And those stories can help employees be a part of something bigger than themselves. In Essential Ideas, Kate and Jean-Pierre hit on the struggles of addiction, living a 100% natural life, and cultivating positive relationships

Both lululemon and Saje provided time at work to listen. Don’t assume that people are going to want to tune in on their off time. If you invest in a podcast as a communication vehicle, make it available to employees during the workday. Saje embeds the podcast in a dashboard so employees could enjoy on their own time. Lululemon embeds their podcast on an intranet and had it translated for global staff to enjoy.

The engagement was measured. Measure the impact of your podcast. If things aren’t going well you can adapt as you go for greater impact. During the production of the Essential Ideas podcast consumption data was measured and alterations were made on the fly. Those changes resulted in a longer listening time.

Invest in doing it right. Production quality can go a long way in helping to engage with staff and bring them back for more. We’ve written about this at length.

Producing a podcast but afraid nobody will listen? 

3. Use your podcast to tackle disinformation 

The majority of the Edelman Trust Barometer respondents (53%) believe businesses should take an active role in providing accurate information, and 61% cited their employer as their most trusted source of information. This is above government (58%), traditional media (57%), and social media (39%).

All businesses have a role to play in tackling disinformation.

Business is well-placed to develop initiatives that teach media and information literacy skills. According to the report, only a quarter of people practice good ‘information hygiene’ – practices which allow them to check information, avoid echo chambers and share information that they know is reliable. Also, 55% of respondents say that increasing their media and information literacy was more important to them now than last year.

We have seen a lot of misinformation with travel during COVID. When the pandemic reached across the world – and travel grew not only confusing… but potentially dangerous…. we pivoted the aim of Out Travel The System (by Expedia), and the messaging was brought to the ears of listeners.

The travel industry was shaken to its core, so the Expedia team sprung into action. Expedia scrambled to provide critical information to customers about refunds and re-bookings. And they were up against a sea of misinformation.  Meanwhile, countries around the world called their travelers home from abroad, and chaos ensued. Under these conditions, Out Travel The System podcast became less of a storytelling tool, and more of an outreach service to help the strain on the communications team, and reduce the misinformation.

Next, during an evolving situation that seemed to change daily, we looked to meet their listeners’ needs for up-to-date information about travel safety.

Information included:

  • What airlines would have the toughest mask policies?

  • Which airlines were keeping the middle seat free to allow greater social distancing.

  • What options do travelers have (compared to hotels) that give them control of their environment?

  • What hotels were doing to make their space safe? One thing was for sure – the communal breakfast buffet is on hold.

One of Expedia’s values is to be helpful to travelers. And as a leader in the travel space, they have a duty, to tell the truth about how to travel safely during the pandemic. The team continues to deliver the right travel information. Even if the stakes are higher.

4. Create a podcast that is audience focused and delivers value

As we’ve shared in a previous post, the most successful brand podcasts focus on their audience. They deliver value based on what their audience needs.

In the words of Richard Edelman, CEO of Edelman:

This is a moment for business—an institution that inherently serves a bipartisan constituency—to offer competence and solutions.

In the report, more than four in ten say they trust business the most to solve problems. So with your podcast, you need to be thinking:

  • What solutions can you be providing your audience?

  • Where do they need help?

Good Money is a podcast by Vancity, Canada’s largest member-owned financial co-ops. With COVID hitting every corner of society — and our pocketbooks – we’ve all been asking “how do I get through this?” And how do we limit the hit to our finances? That’s what Good Money is for. It’s a podcast that gives practical answers to questions and makes the world of finance understandable and relevant. It demystifies markets, investments, and retirement planning. It delves into housing and the growing challenge of debt. It explores locally-owned businesses and “the real economy.” It examines the global forces affecting our lives. And it not only talks about how to rebuild the economy, but how to make it fairer for people and better for the planet.

This scary (but not surprising) report from Edelman provides a reminder that, as businesses, we hold a privileged role in the lives of our employees and stakeholders. Building trust is ultimately about the quality of our relationships. A podcast is one of the best ways to start a conversation.

Roger Nairn is Co-Founder and CEO of JAR Audio