Can you trust anyone online?

Trust. It is fundamental to your private and your business life. Stop trusting your spouse and your marriage is doomed. Stop trusting your colleagues and your work-life is doomed. Stop trusting what you read online and…..? New research from the USA shows us that trust is in short supply these days. According to Gallup who conducted the study, it’s down to the way we feel because of the recession. But that’s just an excuse. The real reason for lack of trust is the Internet itself. And what’s going on online is affecting the likelihood of people trusting you and your business too. Time to act.


“Trust” is a new movie which highlights the issue of who you should or should not trust online. It follows the popular newspaper line that there are sexual predators on the Internet, waiting to pounce on the next hapless teenage girl who doesn’t know how to improve her Facebook security settings. True, it happens, but most men who inhabit the Internet are not perverted, in spite of what some daily newspapers would have us think. However, they do have a point.

The fact that men who have a predilection for young girls can more easily achieve their desires online than in the offline world, the more obvious it becomes. Before the Internet, sexual predators still existed – it’s just they were not so obvious. Nowadays, they can be spotted even by teenage girls who notice the wording used in messages, for instance, is not that of a teenager but rather “older” linguistically. And then they can warn off their mates using public services like Twitter – and then more people notice. In other words, even if there were no higher a percentage of the population with unusual sexual desires than there were 20 years ago, we all notice it more nowadays – thanks to the Internet.

The Gallup poll shows us that very little of the world around us is trusted. Government is the least trusted institution of all; but it wasn’t always so. Not too long ago – within my living memory – MPs were respected people. They were addressed politely and were seen as senior members of our society. Now, we’d rather put them in the stocks, it seems. The poll also found that we don’t trust big businesses – only 19% of Americans have any trust in large firms. But take heart if you are in small business, after the military you are in the most trusted sector of society according to Gallup.

Over the years, Gallup has found that trust in many areas of our society has been falling – they have been doing the study since 1973. Interestingly their graphs show that trust began to fall in some institutions and sectors of society around 2002 – when the whole notion of  “Web 2.0” was first upon us. And what did “Web 2.0” bring us? Interaction, the ability to comment and communicate publicly, the possibility that we could “tell the world” anything we wanted. And boy oh boy that’s what we did.

You can’t move for blog posts on how bad some products are from some companies, nor do you have to go far on Twitter before you find some negative customer service experience with a “#fail” hashtag. Similarly, a quick search on Google will find you any number of negative web pages about MPs, business leaders or banks. Wherever you look online, you can find loads of negative information about every corner of our society.

Prior to Web 2.0 this information was still there – it is just that we did not know about it. And those people who did know about it could not easily communicate it to more than handful of people at a time. Prior to Web 2.0 bad business, poor politicians and maladjusted men could hide. What the Internet has brought us is transparency and with it we have been able to see just what a mixed up, hocus pocus world we live in. Companies have sold us bad products, knowingly, politicians have been playing the system selfishly and perverts have been getting their rocks off for years – all without us knowing. Now we know.

It isn’t the recession that has caused the lack of trust which Gallup has identified, but the dramatic increase in transparency brought about by the Internet. And that means YOUR business is also transparent. Hide things, pretend things, cheat – you’ll be “outed” online. Give poor customer service? Look out Twitter.

So what can you do? Well, for a start, you can run your business properly, honestly and above board. Secondly you need to ensure you maintain high levels of trust and research shows us there are just two ways this happens: caring for your customers and empathy for your customers. That’s it – care and empathy are all you need to build trust. Show your customers and potential customers you are doing everything you do just for them and they will trust you. Demonstrate that online, in an honest, open and transparent way and in this new world of decreasing trust, you will actually be building yours. And that can only be good for your business.

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