Trust in a digital world

Emotions are key factors in any buying process and especially in the digital buying process.


Whenever we buy something we make a risk assessment. Buying online complicates that assessment. Since we don’t have the physical product in our hands we base our risk assessment on feelings of security and trust. Being able to trust a brand matters even more if we buy a service (like consultancy) because we can’t exchange it if we don’t like it.

Trust is essential in any relationship and for brands a trustworthy image is everything. If people trust you they will buy in to anything you say, simply because you say it and you won’t have to spend your time on convincing people that your intensions or products are good. But trust doesn’t come overnight, you don’t get trust, trust is something you earn and it takes a long time.

So how do you get people to trust you? Some would say that you would have to be open and authentic about what you are doing and why. And that is a start of course, but not nearly enough. As the case with Facebook’s new messenger app shows, being open about what you are doing, can sometimes cause people to mistrust you even more by second-guessing your motivation.

Trust is intertwined with your (brand) image and is something you build up by being consistent and living up to what you say every single time for a long period of time. It might take you decades to earn trust among your target group or in your market. Trust is funny like that, although it takes a long time to build up, you can lose it all again in a single day.

Trust can create loyalty but should not be mistaken for loyalty

If we trust someone and they abuse that trust we will not be very forgiving, and rebuilding that trust will be very hard if not impossible. The reason for this is that trust is one of the psychological mechanisms we use as guidelines in our everyday life. Our brain doesn’t have unlimited capacity, so as humans we organize the world around us in categories. That way we don’t have to think every time we make a decision.

Imagine if you’d have to make a new assessment every time you come across a person, a brands or a product. You wouldn’t be able to do anything. This is why a trustworthy image is so vital for brands, be it business or personal. Once you are considered trustworthy people will stop second-guessing you and they might even go out of their way to protect your image against other people’s views.

Since we think in categories, what is good cannot be bad and vice versa. We all know that there are grey areas to everything, but when we are in the process of buying we don’t stop to weigh in those areas, we go with how we have categorized you. You probably know it from your own experiences. If you have to pause to consider whether or not you trust somebody, you have already learnt that you don’t.

The fact that we act according to categories is also one of the reasons why so many people find personal branding difficult; because showing your entire personality could mean that you risk being put in the “wrong” category. Most of us are not consciously aware of how we categorize and make risk assessments, we just do it. It is as natural for us as breathing and eating.

Once you are placed in a certain category it is very hard to change that image. During the last year I have experienced broken trust more than once with both businesses and individuals. Needless to say that I will not do business with anybody that has caused me to loose trust in them. But this issue is not just between me and the businesses involved. As the good friend I am, I will (of course) make sure that my friends get a fair warning.

So what can you do to gain trust?

First of all you actually have to be trustworthy. You can’t just claim to be, you have to show it. And not just once, being trustworthy is an ongoing affair and should be part of your business strategy. So how do you show it? Even though trust is binary and therefor is not something you can design, there are several ways in which you can show people that you and your business can in fact be trusted.

  • Show you care
  • Come true on your brand promises every single time
  • Be open (but not too open) and authentic
  • Do good for others
  • Show that sustainability matters to you
  • Care about safety and privacy

You can’t design for trust, but you can and should design for safety. Your customers and partners need to know that you care deeply about their safety and privacy. Feeling secure that the data you supply a company with will be handled properly is a major selling point in the digital buying process. Giving your customers and prospects a sense of security and thereby installing a feeling of trust can be done both by action and design but also by supplying them with recommendations from likeminded which is why, Social Media can be a game changer for your image.

Building up trust with Social Media

Social Media is great for building up trust. Social Media gives you the opportunity to listen to what your customers say about you, to respond and help in a quick and in formalized matter. By using Social Media you can get to know your customers and more important than that, they can get to know you. Personalizing your brand through Social Media will make it easier for people to trust you. When you engage with your customers human to human, this will send a signal that you truly care about their feelings.

Unlike what many people think PR is not just for crisis management. The feeling that you know someone is essential when building up trust and Social Media has made it easier for you to tell you brands story. By letting your customers and prospects get to know the people behind the brand by showcasing your vision and giving them behind the scene insights, will make them feel more connected to your brand on a personal level.

Another key factor in building up trust using Social Media is Social Proof. The fact that people can see that other people trust you will make it easier for them to trust you as well. If, as a customer, you can’t get recommendations from your friends, a crowd recommendation will serve as the next best thing. A clear example of that is the diffusion of innovation scale where the early adopter’s functions as a mass recommendation, helping the masses take a leap of faith into the uncertainty of an unknown product.

Every Brand face crisis from time to time. By networking on Social Media and thereby building up a critical mass of customers that trusts your brand will help you remain trustworthy when facing a crisis. Happy customers are some of the best brand advocates you can get and they can do a much better job at securing the unhappy customers in that their experience is not a case of foul play, but just a mistake. After all we are all human and we all make mistakes.

Keep in mind

You can’t fake trustworthiness. Well not for long anyway. Building up trust should come from within your brand, which is why paying attention to your company culture matters. Your employees are first in line and should know by heart, how you expect them to treat your customers and prospects. Inconsistency and bad customer care is not an option if you are trying to build up trust. Information travels fast these days.

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