Everybody talks about the importance of authenticity and transparency in social media, but why? What's so great about being honest and open? After all, there are folks out there who make a living deceiving people to gain their trust - no, I'm not talking about used car salesmen and politicians, though there may be a little Venn diagram overlap there. I refer instead to the ignoble confidence man who earns his or her ill-gotten gains through gaining the trust of others to take advantage of them. But the ends aren't what's interesting here: it's the means they use to build that trust that's so informative. For example, here's a great quote from an article titled How to Run a Con by Paul J. Zak that I found through Bruce Schneier's blog:
"The key to a con is not that you trust the conman, but that he shows he trusts you."
That's a pretty powerful insight for community managers and those attempting to reach out to their broader audience through social media. 'I trust you because you trust me' is an emotional response that bypasses logical thought - after all, there's nothing particularly trustworthy about being vulnerable, but sharing that vulnerability invites reciprocity.
I highly recommend the article as it's a wonderful read about the elements that make cons effective beyond the victim's greed. But because this is a blog about community, not security, I thought I'd take the list of different factors from the article that the con men used to build trust with the victim and apply it to a community context to see how well it fits:
Helping a specific individual
Helping another person, as the article notes, is a huge ego boost and emotional reward. Asking for help in a forums, a twitter post or a blog article is often answered. As the author states: "'I need your help' is a potent stimulus for action."
The more people who are perceived to directly benefit from your actions, the greater the motivation. We often see that an appeal made 'on behalf of the community' can magnify the effect of a personal request.
Shown positive example
If you see someone step up to help, you are more likely to want to join in. We see this in ratings systems, comments and polls all the time: a post that is rated up is more likely to be rated up higher, while posts that are not rated will likely continue to be ignored, etc. You need to show members how they should participate and lead by example.
If there is a personal benefit to you all the better, but the benefit should be align with the action or it will raise questions. Cons fail if too much money is offered, as the victim will become suspicious. Community reputation systems and rewards of access in the community provide reward in line with individual participation that monetary rewards do not.
Low perceived risk
If you believe that the risk is low, you are more likely to give. Members are more likely to participate in a community with a positive and nurturing atmosphere than one that is either too controlling or where there is too much negativity. Make it easy and safe to give and members will.
And now let's go back to authenticity and transparency: the con is a short-lived event. The victim of a con is unlikely to trust the con men again (the opposite of 'low perceived risk' above) which means that the con man must move from mark to mark to make their living. So if you are looking for more than a single score, and if you want folks to continue to trust you, you will have to continue to validate that trust. And the best way to do that is to mean what you say (authenticity) and say what you mean (transparency).
Do you trust your members? Do you show it? If not, why should they trust you?
photo by by KB35
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