How to Build Online Relevance and Trust


By Russ Ward (@russcward)

I was thinking that to have a close circle of good friends is to have a trusted relationship with each person. Typically we make regular contact with each other to share our common interests and keep up with what is happening in our lives.

When we think about what it takes to develop this level of trust and connectedness there are some basic behaviors that are necessary to get to this point. We need to communicate regularly with honesty and respect and our relationship needs to provide some form of benefit and relevance for everyone involved (not just whats in it for me). In turn we generally recognize our own value and worth to the relationship, which positively impacts others and boosts our own self-esteem.

Relationships that are one sided usually dont last very long especially if one party fails to feel that the connection is irrelevant to them or the trust level is diminished.

So its no real surprise that Social Networks on the Internet have some close parallels to the real life model. In the Social Media space we need to spend time developing and maturing connections being these acquaintances, affiliations and friends. We need to do this with meaningful communication that has integrity and relevance that we hope over time will build respect and earn trust. In short building a network requires an honest effort.

Ok so I am restating the obvious – the effort to seek out people in social networks or accept their requests to do the same thing actually makes the connection, but the connection is not a relationship until we have established some level relevance, credibility and trust.

However, unlike real life the Internet has some interesting twists … how do we establish any level of trust and credibility with people when we are almost totally unknown except by a screen name or an email address? OK, granted, some of our connections are actually friends we know personally from our work or home life but these folks are usually the minority. Dont let this fool you, even in these anonymous scenarios people seek integrity and relevance.

In the realm of Information Science we can find that being relevant to the receiver or user is a vital part of the process. This reference describes how well the information matches the needs of the user. Naturally, if you produce relevant information over time you may become perceptibly credible in the minds of the receivers or users. In a gradual transformation, as one gains credibility the associated notion of reliability and trust slowly develop. But, to be sure the occasionally relevant communication will not make you friends to all. We need to continue to work at being relevant to our online friends and connections to build and maintain trust.

For corporations to develop trust the company must work very hard to be relevant to all manner of potential connections. This relevance needs to be on the users terms and not on the corporations terms. Depending on the industry many corporations attract criticism and suspicion so it is even more important to work on relevance, credibility and trust.

  1. Find out what type of content your users are looking for that will make you relevant.
  2. Email, Tweet & Post regularly (weekly or monthly).
  3. Be sure to provide contextually relevant and personally meaningful information for the user each time you have something to say.
  4. Aim to provide users with valuable insights that they can recognize and understand.
  5. Give the folks in your network the opportunity to be part of the conversation one-way relationships are pretty flat.
  6. Dont use the Social Network space for your advertising blasts (I am sure we have experienced how it feels when a “friend tries to sell you on some scheme that youre totally disinterested in).

Managing your online social networks by communicating, creating profiles, blogging, tweeting, or placing links builds your network. To stay relevant to people in your network requires an ongoing effort.

Over time if you dont respect and care for your friends and associates you will gradually loose them no how much you once might have meant. As your relevance drops so will their loyalty and eventually you and your web site will be all but forgotten.

Are your current communications relevant to your customers? Will you maintain their “digital friendship with your current efforts?




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