Business leaders' confidence sinking

Business leaders' confidence sinking

AI survey shows how executives view the challenges of communicating with different audiences, according to Worldcom

The confidence of global business leaders plummeted in 2019, according to the second annual Confidence Index (CI) from Worldcom Public Relations Group, a global partnership of independent firms that includes TQPR Thailand.

The survey was based on an analysis of online content, including social media messages to various audience groups, from more than 58,000 chief executives and chief marketing officers (CMOs), including those in Thailand. It showed overall confidence among global CEOs and CMOs was down more than 20% from a year earlier, with the most significant drops in the US (51%) and China (21%). Japan bucked the trend, moving from last to first in the 15-country CI, with a rise of 74%.

"High levels of uncertainty globally, including talk of trade wars between the US and China, have not helped assuage the fears of business leaders, and our research shows global trade agreements and tariffs are undermining confidence," said Worldcom chairman Roger Hurni.

"Since our last Confidence Index in 2018, leaders have encountered Brexit, protests in Hong Kong, the proliferation of global warming, famine, and the re-emergence of diseases such as measles. This combination of factors may help explain why confidence levels have fallen so dramatically over the past year."

The survey was carried out for Worldcom by Advanced Symbolics Inc, a market research firm that uses a patented artificial intelligence (AI) tool to track and interpret publicly available social media content. The research firm analysed data from nearly 60,000 business leaders in 15 countries and nine languages, showing how their opinions and intentions have changed over time.

Along with global confidence, the report underlines the importance of reaching specific audiences and the confidence levels that C-suite executives have in reaching those audiences.

In 2018, CEOs were most concerned with reaching customers, but respondents in the 2019 survey are most concerned with influencers, which grew 160% from 2018 to 2019, followed by customers and employees.

However, CEO confidence in reaching influencers remains quite low. Leaders are more confident in their abilities to reach shareholders, customers, suppliers, and even government officials.

"Influencers were an audience in decline in 2018 but leapt to the front of the pack in this year's report," said Mr Hurni. "The growth of this audience could suggest leaders feel they need the support of influencers to help them navigate their way through turbulent times."


Another issue CEOs and CMOs are managing is the retention of employees. Leaders have low confidence in their abilities to retain talent. Firms in Britain and the US rank last and second to last, respectively, in their confidence about retaining employees. This is just one of five employee-related issues that feature in the top six topics discussed globally.

Economic migration is also a cause for concern globally -- most notably in the US, which had the lowest confidence index score. The No.1 topic aired by leaders is upskilling and reskilling employees. Britain had the lowest score for this topic, and Japan the highest. Improving skills is just one of many areas leaders are exploring to keep employees loyal and engaged.

"Just like last year, what is keeping CEOs up at night is retaining top talent," said Mr Hurni. "This year they also want to ensure employees have the right skills in an evolving and dynamic workplace. It is clear employment benefits need to be a part of a retention and attraction strategy."

The CI highlights concerns and confidence across 23 topics and six audiences. The top 10 findings were as follows:

1. Confidence levels imploded, down 21%. The US showed the biggest decline (down 51%) and Japan the biggest rise.

2. Influencers became the No.1 audience for leaders' attention, but have the second lowest CI score. The impact and role of the media has the lowest CI score.

3. Employee-related topics dominate leaders' agendas:

  • Upskilling and reskilling is the most discussed topic;
  • Employee-related topics take up five out of the top six topic places;
  • The CI score for employees is the lowest of all audiences.

4. Leaders have concerns about their corporate image and brand reputation, as well as their ability to protect it in a crisis.

5. Global trade agreements and tariffs undermine confidence.

6. Confidence has declined for the ability to satisfy customers -- especially in the US -- but remains higher than for other business topics.

7. Scores show for actions that affect us all, such as global warming, they trigger very different reactions in leaders.

8. Governments and legislators getting much more attention and changes in administrations are a cause for concern.

9. A marked shift in attitudes affects the way political leaders communicate on social media.

10. Cybercrime is no longer a global cause for concern, but is a big issue for South American leaders.

To download the full report, visit

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