Every year Edelman puts out a fantastic employee engagement survey on how buyers and consumers perceive leaders, organizations, and content.

Because of this topic’s relevance to social selling (and selling in general), I wanted to pull out the most salient bits. That said, I do recommend that you spend some time with the complete report, especially if you’re in a executive leadership role; we ignore these findings at our own peril.

Takeaways From The Employee Engagement Survey

As the saying goes, we buy from those we know, like, and trust. Out of those three qualities, trust is by far the most important. For us humans, it’s existential. Although we may live in a modern world (at least compared to the caves we were living in 15,000 years ago), most of our decisions still stem from basic needs and fears, especially when it comes to dealing with other, fellow humans. This is particularly true when it comes to buying and selling.

Ignite your most powerful advocate, your employee. ~Edelman

Peer-Influenced Media Are The Most Trusted

As evidenced by the employee engagement survey, two out of the top three trusted forms of news and information–search and social media–are peer influenced (you could even say they’re peer driven).

Newspapers, magazines, and blogs are trusted far less, with blogs falling at the bottom with only 28% trust (less than half that of search and social). Especially interesting when you consider how much importance businesses have put on blogs contrasted with the persistent skepticism (typically from within a business) around social.

Virtually Every Purchase Is Influenced By A Peer

59% of respondents stated that they’d recommended a company to a friend or colleague in the the last 12 months, whereas 75% said that the recommendations they’d received had impacted their ultimate decision.

From a sales perspective, this should convey the importance of social media and engaging in a multi-threaded sales process. If you’re not making connections with the buyer and others they trust, you have far less ability to influence their ultimate decision.

Peers, Employees, And Experts Come Cut On Top

It couldn’t be more clear: people trust their peers, experts (people perceived to be objective and to have specialized expertise, and employees. The groups that are trusted less (by as much as half) include CEOs, NGO representatives, a member of a board, and coming in last and least a government official/regulator.

I’d wager to say that this is a complete inversion of who most people trusted 50 years ago and a main reason why many corporations and media outlets struggle to properly leverage social media and other peer-driven channels.

Employees Are Essential Advocates

According to the employee engagement survey, employees are the most trusted to communicate on behalf of their companies on the topics of financial earnings and operational performance, business practices and crisis handling, and treatment of employees and customers.

Interestingly, the only category people seem to trust the CEO to talk about is views on industry issues. All the more reason to empower employees to speak publicly on topics that have traditionally been restricted. With proper tools and training, a business can very quickly enable employees to become powerful advocates.

Lots Of Employees Don’t Trust Their Companies

Only 64% of employees in the US trust the company they work for. Numbers are lowest in Japan, Russia, and much of western Europe, and highest in new and developing economies of China, India, Brazil and Mexico. This is something that every CEO should be thinking about.

Are you comfortable with nearly half of your employees not trusting your company? Based on our experience, there are many cost-effective ways to quickly improve trust, including supporting individual empowerment and increasing access to information.

Employees Are Critical Influencers

Of the top four trusted groups online, only employees represent a resource a business can actually employ to their benefit. The other three include friends and family, an academic expert, and companies that the person already purchases items from.

Also consider the groups trusted less than employees: a CEO, a journalist, a well-known online personality, an elected official, a celebrity, and last and again least companies that they don’t currently purchase items from.

Trusted Peers Influence The Entire Buying Cycle

There’s been a lot of data around how much of the buying cycle is over by the time your sales team is contacted by a prospective buyer. However, even if they do you the favor of contacting your sales team, the reality is that trusted peers influence every stage of the buying process. Further, they most influence the final, critical stage: 75% of people in the final stage of buying report being influenced by a peer.

We love this kind of employee engagement survey because it unequivocally substantiates the value of employee advocacy and social selling programs. Your employees–including your sales representatives–represent both one of your greatest and also one of your most cost-effective resources.