Evoking online trust

Interactions rarely happen with people we don't trust.

How is it that someone sees your website or your social media presence or your email and decides to interact? The decision to interact happens before someone actually listens to what you have to say. Here’s a way to think about the factors that kick in before the browser even hears what you have to offer them today:

  • Word of mouth
  • Direct interaction
  • Graphics
  • Tone of voice
  • Offer
  • Size of leap
  • Fear
  • Social ranking/metric
  • Tribal affiliation
  • Perception of transparency
  • Longevity
  • Mass acceptance


Word of mouth: The most effective, by far. If I’ve heard good things about you from people I know, the entire relationship changes. You get the benefit of the doubt.

Direct interaction: Have you previously touched me or interacted with me in some way beyond the passive? The way I feel about that ping will alter our interaction. If this is the first time you're reaching out, you can bet a piece of spam is read differently than something that comes via mutual introduction.

Graphics: What do you look like? What does it remind me of? With so few clues online, we read an enormous amount into every pixel, every typeface...

Tone of voice: A variation of graphics, it has to do with your copy, with your video, with the urgency of your offer. Urgency rarely leads to trust.

Scarcity: Is there a perception that early birds gain? This also hooks in with metrics, like the progress your Kickstarter has made so far, or the number of social links you display.

Offer: What’s in it for me to listen to what you have to say? Do I gain more if I listen with a sympathetic ear?

Size of leap: What are you asking me to do? It’s significantly easier to earn the trust that is required to follow you on social media than it is to get me to give you my credit card. When you hook your new idea to an old idea I already trust, you benefit.

Fear: This is related to the leap. Big leaps are scarier, requiring more trust, and thus more skepticism.

Social ranking/metric: Results on the first page of Google are more trusted. People with a lot of Twitter followers as well, which is one reason both metrics are aggressively coveted and sometimes gamed.

Tribal affiliation: Are you one of us?

Perception of transparency: When I can see the metrics, or understand your intention, or when the message carries with it the hooks to those ideas, I’m more inclined to trust you. (This is a cultural, not a universal, bias).

Longevity: How long have you been showing up?

Mass acceptance: When I sort of hear of you from my friends, when I recognize you from a hashtag or the logo on a shirt or from a TV show, you come out ahead. TV celebrities walk in to the room with a lot of trust.

You will be judged, best to plan on being judged in the best possible light.

       
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