Trust Me

Trust influences nearly every interaction we have during any given day.  Every communication, every action, every conversation is shaped in some way by the trust and reputation that we infer on the interacting party.  It is the currency communities, both online and offline, trade in.  Without trust, lasting relationships can’t be built and authentic communities can’t be maintained.  As a Community Leader, part of our job is to build reputation and trust for our communities and the people associated with them.  This may sound easy, but it can be very hard since you rely on the actions of others for much of your community’s reputation and trust.  Think about it…  You may be the most trustworthy and reputable person in the world, but if your community is acting in the wrong way, your efforts may be for naught.


Trust is not something you can ask for; it’s earned through actions and competence and it defines relationships between people, governments, communities, and businesses.  The text book definition of trust is “…reliance on the integrity, ability, or character of a person or entity”.  The key word being “reliance”.  You rely on someone or something because you have a history of past experiences by which you can infer future experiences.  Without these past experiences, people have no way to place you within their trust metric. They resort to lumping you in with “the rest” or basing it on any reputation you may have.

So trust and reputation are important – you get that.  But what can you do to enhance your reputation and gain a community’s trust?  I’m glad you asked.  Here are several things to consider in your next exchange with your community.

Stand and Deliver

This may be the most important thing of all to keep in mind when building trust, and here’s why … “people trust people who get things done”. Actions always speak louder than words.  If you say you’re going to do something and never quite get around to it, your reputation will suffer and hence the community’s trust in you.  You don’t typically see the choice projects going to under-performers at work, of course not.  That’s because their managers don’t trust them to create results.  They go to the people who can “stand and deliver” results.  That needs to be you!

This is actually a “two-parter”.  Not only should you deliver results, but you need to deliver the right results and update others on your progress. This requires learning to prioritize the most important tasks in your community and making sure that action and results are being produced.  Not only will the community see that you’re working on important tasks but you’ll also gain reputation because you’re delivering on what you said you’d do.

Get Real

Don’t let your community become a billboard of marketing messages from your sponsors.  These types of one-way communications send users running for the hills.  Being genuine, open and authentic in all community dealings is what you should strive for and what you should expect from others.  Being open and honest about why decisions are made, who influences those decisions and why, and apologizing unequivocally when things go wrong will take you far in life and in community relations.

One thing that is becoming clear as we explore the uncharted waters of the Social Web is that open and honest dialogs build trust.  As I’ve mentioned before, community members want to be a part of something – let them.  Don’t expect to build a vibrant community if all you’re doing is attracting “fans” to your site.  Fans are just that – fans.  You should be thinking about how you can convert fans tocontributors and you do that through openness, authenticity, and dialogue.  Embrace conversation and discussion in your community and let the community’s input guide you.  Make it clear that contribution from everyone is heard, valued and respected.  Which leads to the next thing to remember which is …

R-E-S-P-E-C-T (just a little bit)

Do you remember that song sung by Aretha Franklin (maybe I just dated myself:( )?  Well, all she wanted was a little respect and when she didn’t get it … guess what … she left.  Treat your community members with the same regard and esteem you’d like them to show you and others in your community.  Set the example.  One simple rule we all learned as kids says it all… “Treat others as you’d like to be treated yourself”.  Build your old_trustcommunity’s principals around that simple concept and you’ll do just fine.  Remember that each interaction with your community is from a human being who wants and deserves to be treated fairly and with civility (until proven otherwise :) ).

Give Credit Where Credit is Due

This one can sometimes get overlooked in all the hustle and bustle of today when we’re trying to keep up with email, forums, posts, action items, and meetings.  Sometimes we forget that we’re not the only ones who are working our butts off to get things done.  Make sure you take a minute everyday to give credit where it is due.  In Collaboration Project Success in 5 Simple Steps, I discussed how a fear of criticism effects collaboration project participants adversely.  The opposite also holds true.  When people are praised for their efforts and contributions, it becomes addictive.  They begin to crave it and will act accordingly to get it.  Think about it like this.  When was the last time someone gave you a genuine and authentic compliment and you didn’t want to try to please them even more.  You can’t, because its never happened.  Subconsciously we all crave praise and reward; that’s what make it such an effective tool for building trust.  If your community is quick to praise and slow to criticize, others will find it welcoming and enjoy spending time there.

These are just some of the actions you can take to build trust and reputation for your community efforts.  I’m sure there are many others.  One book I highly recommend on the subject is The Speed of Trust by Stephen Covey.  It’s a remarkable book that goes into great detail about the why, when, where, and how of trust in everything we do.  Read it.

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