The Psychology of Trust on Google Plus

 

The Psychology of TrustIntroduction

The concept of trust is one that influences our decisions daily. Do we trust this source of online information, this person, or even that the expiry date on that strong French cheese we find in the back corner of the fridge is reliable?!

On Google+ we are so often connecting with people we don’t know already, and as such ‘trust’ works towards reputation. When this is applied to a subject matter in particular we can follow David Amerland’s path that trust leads to reputation that in turn makes someone a ‘known’ authority.

At the end of the article you will see why baking and giving away the best ‘apple pies’ in the world is the best way to create trust in your community.

Before we get there, let’s take a look at the meaning of trust before we consider how it is formed, and lost.

The meaning of trust:

trust  n. from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/trust

1. Firm reliance on the integrity, ability, or character of a person or thing.

2. Custody; care.

3. Something committed into the care of another; charge.

4.a. The condition and resulting obligation of having confidence placed in one.

  b. One in which confidence is placed.

Trust then is often something that evokes confidence and certainty that a person, or a thing, will do what he/she or it says.

How does trust get formed?

Well, on Google+ we can see this process clearly in action. One of the brilliant moves by Google has been the steady growth and allowance of the emergence of a new culture where we all support each other in a far more transparent world than ever.

So, “Why do we need it?” Well, David Amerland, author of Google Semantic Search, says “Trust has evolved out of commerce and trade, our need to access a product or a service. When we take that need away, we couldn’t care less if a person will do what they say or not, we’re self-sufficient (in a wider context) and totally, implicitly trusting (in a much narrower one) look at the culture of Palmerston for instance (http://goo.gl/M091Lg) where they don’t use money amongst themselves for anything.”

Also, check out this article by David on ‘The Concept of Symmetry’ 

Once you have proven that you can be trusted then you begin to have a reputation i.e. people say ‘stuff’ about you that positively reinforces that you can be trusted in the future – this, as David Amerland says, is what constitutes your reputation.

But is takes time – in fact, within Google+ I would say it takes around 20 positive experiences with someone to feel you can ‘trust them as a person’. And we are always sensitive, watching, feeling and noticing in particular when the process of trust building with someone new is not going so well. Trust it seems is more easy to lose than it is to gain.

So who should we trust?

I remember my old mentor Tim telling me the best people from whom to take advice are those ‘who don’t have an axe to grind’.

As I was lying there last night this phrase collided with the memory of a cartoon from Scott Adams in his book ‘The Way of the Weasel’. I recall a Viking axe sharpener who has a ‘free axe sharpening service’ and if you leave it with him 24 hours he will get it ready for you.

You turn up the next day and voila you get your axe, and a bill! Why? Because whilst the axe sharpening is free, the overnight storage of said axe is costly.

You know when you’ve been weaseled.

Then there is ‘the weasel’. To weasel is not criminal. But is does affect trust.

We’ve all been there, you know, when you find that ‘special offer’ turned out not to be so special after all. Like when the free help you received suddenly comes with a price tag.
When you discover you feel ‘weaseled’ and trust will go.

This whole area has a deep rabbit warren structure; grab a flashlight and enter David Amerland’s article here for more.

So, what is happening in ‘mind’ as trust is built?

When you first meet someone you need to assess whether you consider them to be trustworthy – it is a form of defence which influences the nature of relationship with them.

As such, you are either consciously or unconsciously beginning to build a map of whether what they say ‘stacks up’. In turn, this will build into a schema of events i.e. accumulated thoughts which will then lead to an overall judgement to whether you think a person can be trusted.

I was hanging out with David Amerland during writing this article and he adds that “building trust (and relationships) we are building the mental construct of our very own village square of the mind – where we know where to go (and whom to listen to) and people know us and if we need something and we don’t know where to get it, we know somebody we can trust who will be able to tell us.”
Love that – we are all mapping, with every event.

What happens in ‘mind’ for someone to lose our trust?

Assuming that trust has been built, it is when there are ‘trust loss’ moments that are captured in mind that we begin to erode that overall schema into a different one i.e. that they cannot be trusted.

This is why on Google+ every interaction matters, everyone is add to the references as to how much they trust you on every interaction, whether they know it or not.

How does this relate to building/losing trust on Google+?

On Google+ there are many ways people can weasel, including:

The affiliate link weasel A – not declaring that a link you post is an affiliate link

The affiliate link weasel B – not declaring that the shortened link you used to disguise the fact it was an affiliate link was in fact an affiliate link

The affiliate link weasel C – saying that the affiliate link you’ve included won’t earn you a penny, nada, nothing, and is not even yours; when in fact, it is your mate Steve’s who will earn from it.

The sponsorship weasel – this can be when someone is paid for promoting a product, but doesn’t use it themselves.

The promoted blog weasel – this is when people are simply writing the content in order for them to have an affiliate link clicked, not because there is any passion behind the product.

The picture bating weasel – this is when a person ‘baits’ the hook of a post with an image that is seriously only very/barely tenuously connected to the subject matter of a page linked in the post (their outcome of getting the post to rank in Google Search). They are seeking a lot of +1s/comments and most of all shares; and gifs work so very well for this. Dubious (and likely to be punished by the algorithm).

The ‘sharing clients content’ weasel – this is always going to be tricky, but if people ‘find out’ you work with/for a company and you are sharing their content the don’t be surprised if someone shouts weasel (the answer is, of course, to disclose your relationship).

The sponsored post weasel – we knew this day would come, when companies would pay influencers for exposure. But when this is done without disclosure there will be issues of course, and more so, Google ‘knows’ it is sponsored when it is a different nature to everything else you post. This will hit your personal trust algorithm over time. When you combine this with the risk of spamming your community, your supporters, just to make a buck then people may think twice.

The ‘selling on a community thread’ weasel – this is going to get more and more common, especially when people a new to Google+. Suggesting people “visit your site, and get in touch” is likely to blow relationships with moderators. If it is your thread on your Profile or Page, then it is a different story.

None of these are hideously evil acts that deserve a public flogging whilst onlookers mumble disapprovingly, but once you spot them, they do begin to erode trust (or prevent it from forming).

I want to add that I do, however, like several of the people who I’ve caught doing such weasels – they just have not yet learned that this is a very long game, and the rules really have changed.

Google+ has a new culture

‘To weasel’ was common. And in fact, when I was cutting my teeth in sales about 10 years ago, it was almost the cultural meme – you did what you needed to do to get the sale, hoping it would work out, talking about win-win but really you were after the win yourself.

All in all, just like the approaches above, it suggest that people are still stuck in a transactional mentality – an old culture.

This is not the ‘new culture’ where people support and lift each other up. People transacting ‘shares’ or information has no heart. People passing their affiliate links to each other, blogging on content they really don’t care about just to make a buck from a community member reduces trust.
This new culture is ‘global’ and global means there is the opportunity of a different ‘view’.

We need to help, not sell.

Check out this article by Ryan Hanley as he gives his perspective on this coming wave. 

In order for people to ‘get’ what Google+ is, to get what it has done you have to take on a somewhat different view. In a global community there can be no weaseling without people feeling weaseled. The feedback loops are so fast now that people cannot run and hide from their weaselesque (good word, huh?) activity. Transparency rules.

Is Martin anti making money?

Of course not! And there is nothing wrong with affiliate links – it is about transparency, openness and trust, and most of all…community.

I am speaking at the Social Media Marketing World conference http://martinsherv.com/l, so if you click the affiliate link and purchase then I make some dollars towards the cost of the flight and accommodation for the trip. If however, I wasn’t a speaker at the conference then I bet there could be a response to me pushing out content with the intent of you clicking the link! (see ‘Promoted Blog Weasel’ above).

So, disclosure is a minimum requirement. Guy Kawasaki is one of the best I’ve seen on this one and I follow with a ‘I work/consult/advise’ statement when it is appropriate and necessary.

The really big point for those that have read this far…

With Google+ the rules have really changed online for marketers, and now the real benefits will be by serving the community in which you live.

In turn, if done well, the community will look after you. You will build up trust by giving to your community without any financial agenda at all. You simply help, share your knowledge, and keep your promises. This is what creates trust.

I’ll say this again, one of the easiest ways to build trust is to give without any agenda of earning anything from the recipients.

Here is the really cool thing, a new model for business is emerging: if you give to the community, they in turn will naturally amplify your messages and your content will surface in Google Search.

(Please re-read this sentence until the penny drops, as we say in the UK.)

In turn, those people outside of your community will be exposed to it and potentially can purchase your offerings. This way you keep your relationships within the community fresh and clean, without the feeling you are going to ‘get a knock on the door’ to talk about joining their latest ‘scheme’.

Think of it this way: you are the best baker of apple pies in your community. People pop by and you gift them a tasty pastry dessert, and they head back to the edge of the village.

The people who have eaten the pie just have to tell others about it. They love it that much.

In turn, the pie gets the attention of people outside of your village and people ask the recipient what they think of it (think ‘network’ ‘sharing’ and ‘Google Search’).

They give it a rave review and say that you are the best pie maker in the area (which you are).
And where should they go if they want to buy a pie for themselves? To you of course!
As such, there is never a need to sell to the village, to your community, when you have them as your best evangelists.

In summary, trust leads to reputation (i.e. people talk you up) which leads to you becoming an authority – Search reflecting this as your content surfaces far beyond the network of the village.

This is word of mouth marketing in the new online world of the Plus. So give, give like crazy.

And finally…

We have a great opportunity in 2014 to transform how we do things, and how things are done. As always, thanks for reading (yes, you) and thank you for helping me to keep learning every day.