Monday, October 26, 2009

Is Authenticity the Precursor to Trust?




There has been a lot on the blogosphere lately about Trust and Authenticity. One could argue that it is our "social media responsibility" to make others comfortable with subscribing, friending, buying, and eventually becoming a client or stakeholder. But what exactly is required to make us feel that comfort level, or to create it for others, and what is the Trust/Authenticity magic formula, if there is one?

*Telling Their Story for the Right Reasons
Over the last few months, I have read a lot of “confessional “ blog posts, dealing with life’s sometimes ugly “underbelly.” Many bloggers I subscribe to have recently written about separation or divorce, illness, or financial hardship. They seem to feel a need to “confess,” or to clarify the situation when readers ask after their spouses or other aspects of their personal lives. Even new bloggers I just signed up with are often writing about having been bankrupt just a few short years ago, or deathly overweight, or maybe even coming out of prison. I personally don’t feel I need this information, since my philosophy is that someone’s personal life is just that, and I don’t need any explanation or details, nor would I expect that my readers would require it of me. If you are one of my close friends and we have lunch or coffee several times a week, of course that’s another story.

On the other hand, when someone is blogging their personal story and doing it well, (meaning tastefully and because they feel it from the heart), it can increase their authenticity, assuming the story is true and they have made a persuasive comeback or overcome a serious challenge. Moreover, if their own product has saved them from oblivion, surely it will save me? OK, so say I believe their story, and that they are telling it to be authentic and not to get “ratings.” But does that encourage me trust them for future transactions? It does, if…

*They do what they say they are going to do in small ways first, and their online equations “add up.” If they say “click here to download my e-book,” the link that follows takes me there.

*Apologies or explanations as appropriate. If they published a bad or broken link, or had a computer glitch of some kind, or were not where they say they’d be online or otherwise, they should provide an explanation and make it right. Send a new link right away, offer a freebie, don’t charge me if I didn’t receive what I should have.

*They have spoken before a group and/or published. It’s true that publishing and public speaking are great ways to establish credibility, or “instant cred,” as they say, but these are not deal breakers and should be part of a larger online picture. For example, self-publishing is rather common these days, and let’s face it, it’s not that much work to create a PDF and set it up as a download, nor is it to pay for a publisher to provide you with copies. This is where I’m a bit traditional and if someone has published with an outside publisher and not self-published, I tend to regard them as somewhat more credible. Public speaking is great, but speakers have to be careful that they are not overly marketing their products, or obviously feeding us free sessions today in order to lead us to the paid versions tomorrow.

*Testimonials and/or Case Studies Done Right
The power of testimonials and case studies has been well documented, and that is why many companies are going to great lengths to tell their success stories. These stories create positive buzz, and provide multiple points of reference. We hear not only from the company itself on what their challenge was and how they tackled it, but from the client and how the end result impacted their bottom line. So of course, the testimonial builds trust. But it needs to be done right. The case study should clearly explain the project challenge, how it was handled, and the result. The client testimonial should include the name of the individual and their company. I have seen testimonials posted as anonymous quotes, and it really doesn’t work.

*Satisfaction with a Product – Style and Substance
I could hire someone who has had glowing reviews, but if I’m not happy with their work, of course I am not going to trust them again with an assignment. Not because I don’t trust them to fulfill the work – but because I don’t trust them to complete it in a manner I would like. However, I might try out someone less well-known, be thrilled with them, and then of course trust them for future projects. Keep in mind that satisfaction can be determined by personal criteria as well as objective ones, and this all still leads to trust in the end. Someone might have fulfilled all the technical deliverables required, but if the style or approach was problematic, I probably wouldn’t use them again.

*In With a Good Group
Some entrepreneurs or consultants make it a practice to align themselves and collaborate with peers in their field on a frequent basis. If I know of their colleagues but not them, I am more likely to feel a sense of trust about them and give them a try. However, the other side of the coin is that if they are trying too hard to be “in” with their colleagues, but don’t have a defined presence or identity of their own, this can work against them.

What are your thoughts and criteria for trust and authenticity?

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