As responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have indicated, and recent studies confirmed, the effect of transparency on credibility and trust is more complex than previously expected. To better understand and explain this complexity, the present study examines the interactions between credibility, transparency, and trust through a critical case of the Danish Health Authority’s COVID-19 communication in the spring of 2021. We work with a pooled representative sample of the Danish population (N = 2340), surveyed during a 1-month period. Using Structural Equation Modelling (SEM), we study the dynamic effects of transparency on credibility and trust as all three concepts relate to citizens’ compliance with health authorities’ rules and recommendations. The findings demonstrate that source credibility is positively associated with both compliance and trust, but also that transparent communication does not have a significant effect on the trust levels nor the behavior of the survey participants who consistently report high levels of compliance with COVID-19 advice and restrictions. Accordingly, the study offers two contributions. First, it suggests that transparency in and of itself does not lead to higher levels of trust and compliance, but that interactions between these three factors are dynamic and depend on existing high levels of trust. Second, it advances research on public relations (especially in crisis situations) by emphasizing the importance of establishing credibility prior to crises and discussing the potential long-term benefits of transparency in this regard.
- Crisis communication
- Public health communication