Published in Horizont, the debut Austrian edition of .trust examined 30 state-, family-owned and privately held companies.
Each company’s ability to generate trust in stakeholders and to support the business through communications was assessed by examining their website, corporate social media channels and related Wikipedia article.
The evaluation measured them on two fundamental aspects: Substance (the key information needed to answer users’ questions about the business) and Distinctiveness (how users are engaged in digital channels).
The results of the first edition of our research are mixed. They show us that many companies are investing in digital communication while other are still lacking basic disclosure information.
Trust and Transparency
Slightly more than half of the non-listed companies we evaluated in Austria present content meeting basic stakeholder needs: we consider 40% fulfillment of the criteria in the Substance pillar to be the minimum threshold companies must reach in order to meet basic stakeholder needs and qualify for the next stage of the research. Of the companies evaluated, 14 did not provide the minimum level of disclosure.
Overall, Austrian companies score well when it comes to disclosing “about us” information and integrating brand information into the corporate website. They seem to struggle to find their stride when it comes to sustainability communications, with 20% of companies providing zero information information, among them international brand Red Bull and state-owned Austrian Development Agency.
Strengths and weaknesses
The Role of Leadership in Creating Trust
Few of the non-listed companies we examined have a strong culture of transparency when it comes to presenting their business plan. While we might expect smaller companies to be more cautious in giving visibility to this information, it is surprising that even the larger non-listed companies, active not only in Austria but also globally, seem to prefer to keep their vision for the future of the company and the business strategy under wraps, rather than weaving it into their corporate narrative to construct and support the corporate identity.
Our research suggests that companies leave the commercial side of the business – brands, products and services – to speak for them, rather than constructing a cohesive and engaging corporate narrative (or integrating brand and corporate), leaving stakeholders wondering what the company might have planned for its future. Only a handful of the Austrian non-listed companies we examined actually explain their business strategies though none support the strategy presentation by including specific, concrete goals.
Trust in Stories
It is encouraging to see that nearly two-thirds of the Austrian firms that we evaluated for Distinctiveness are investing in stories, articles, blogs and other narrative content. This suggests that Austrian companies understand the benefit of moving beyond traditional disclosure and are attempting new means of communicating their business. Of the 16 companies considered, 63% use case studies or stories to describe projects and initiatives and communicate their activities, while 44% engage in storytelling via articles, blogs and magazines.
Stories represent a link between the commercial and corporate world and for this reason, it’s important that Austrian non-listed companies are able to ensure that content is accessible and easy to find for different kinds of stakeholders. They seem to have caught on to this, as the navigation and access to information section was the highest-scoring section of the research, at 82%.
What topics are most commonly used in stories and articles?
The explainers are strong on meeting disclosure needs: they are upfront and transparent with their stakeholders when it comes to presenting the company and reaching out to clients. Engaging effectively with their audiences remains an issue, with facts and data taking the place of emotional connection.
Just over half of the companies that qualified for our Distinctiveness evaluation find themselves in this category. With a well-communicated corporate identity, these companies also maintain a strong presence in social media, providing informative and engaging content to stakeholders. Areas for improvement include offering a clear presentation of their strategic vision and presenting effective and engaging stories.
The companies included in this category provide the bare minimum to their stakeholders, lacking open channels of communication and doing little to engage their audiences. Content and messages stick to traditional disclosure and do not covey a distinctive corporate identity.
Relatively few companies fall into this category. They perform well when it comes to offering a positive user experience but have difficulty in presenting an effective corporate narrative and strategic vision of the company.