Why Authenticity Is the Path to Digital Trust

Image of Kirby Wadsworth
Kirby Wadsworth
Published: Dec 14, 2021

In the physical world, we have an innate sense when someone is lying. Parents know this all too well. We don’t need proof Junior is fibbing; we know he’s skipped school well before the headmaster calls.

In fact, non-verbal conversation starts well before words escape our mouths. Spies, professional interrogators, and law enforcement personnel all train to read suspect behavior—hiding the mouth or eyes, licking lips, weight shifting, even swallowing—unconscious and instantaneous actions triggered by the dishonest thought that precedes a dishonest word.

In the digital world, we lack these physical tells, but we’ve adapted quickly to develop an innate sense when an online conversation is disingenuous. How do we "just know" that the Nigerian prince isn’t going to send us a windfall of cash? Certainly, experience and herd immunity come into play, but is there more to our growing digital trust meter?

The Four Characteristics of Trust


In our book, Recommend This!, Jason Thibeault and I postulated that maintaining authenticity was paramount to building trust online.

First let’s explore the concept of trust itself. According to trust researcher Piotr Sztompka, four primary characteristics embody trust:

  1. Reputation – reflections of the trustee’s past actions and conduct
  2. Performance – do the trustee’s present actions align with the expectations of the trustor?
  3. Confidence – the assurance of expectation the trustor has in the trustee
  4. Competence – does the trustee have the knowledge, skills, and attitude required to meet the expectations of the trustor?

Establishing Authenticity in the Digital World


In the digital world, we can build a lasting trust bond with our audience by establishing authenticity in these characteristics of our digital interactions:

  • Truth - be honest and fair in our presentation of our capabilities, use cases, and value propositions
  • Personality – be personable in your digital engagement. Leverage video to put a face on our story. Look our audience in the digital eye
  • Expertise - offer thought leadership, freely share expertise without compensation. Be helpful.
  • Consistency – voice, tone, style—every touchpoint must be consistent. Our performance much match expectations, always.

Managing Your Reputation with Transparency


Here are four keys to reputation management in the digital world:

  • Confess your sins – modest honesty is sadly missing online today, as Mr. Garg at Better.com just reminded us. When you step in it, admit it, in public. And share your plan for improving performance next time.
  • Be clear about your intentions – bait and switch never worked, but online it will get you creamed quick.
  • Transparency, transparency, transparency - Let the warts show and let the team show. Your audience wants to have a relationship with your brand, which means having a relationship with the people behind your brand.
  • Don’t wait for the right opportunity. Build trust in every interaction, every click. Catch your audience off-guard with your forthrightness and "active honesty."

Never take your eye off the digital relationship ball. Any inconsistency, any sniff of game-playing or dishonesty will sever your digital relationship. And, unlike Junior who will get a chance to beg Mom and Dad for forgiveness for his fib, you’ll have little chance of building a trust bond with that audience member in the future.

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