Chris Norton, Blue Rubicon: How to build trust online

The value of digital communications tools is in the relationships you create with them.

We are in the business of building trust. In everything we do we are asking, persuading and cajoling people to think differently about our brand or service. To love us a little bit more.

With trust comes tolerance, permission and ultimately opportunity. It doesn't appear on the balance sheet and yet this intangible, indescribable thing is the holy grail of so many communication campaigns and the lifeblood of any organisation.

We trust people and brands we know. So to increase trust we need to create more conversations with our customers to establish familiarity. That used to be a hard thing to do, but the internet has made it possible to have more conversations with more people, more often.

But it's also the internet that has made winning and losing trust more complicated, delicate, faster and measurable than ever. If I go into a fast-food restaurant and get poor service, I can tell my friends on Facebook before I've even sat down at the table. If UK Uncut wants to demonstrate in Topshop, it can organise and publicise the event quickly and on a mass scale.

The digital revolution has enabled more people to have a voice. Anyone can publish their view in 140 characters and share it instantly. This means activism is no longer the exclusive preserve of NGOs. In subjects as diverse as petrol prices, superinjunctions or the tax arrangements of multinationals, activism has gone mainstream.

This ability to publish, combined with the increased connectivity of social networks, creates a powerful mechanism to disseminate views easily, not just for journalists or advertisements, but for people you trust, your friends. The old command and control model of communications, under which one message is broadcast to a grateful public (advertising is the last bastion of this approach), has been turned on its head.

The corporate world is discovering that it is essential to listen to what is being said about companies and brands and to work out how to engage. Get this engagement wrong and you can see the trust in your brand erode before your eyes in your Twitter stream. Get it right and the upside is huge. The right kind of conversation can inform sceptics and inspire supporters to become advocates.

As with anything digital, it's easy to be wowed by the latest technology and fad. The technology, however flashy, is, in the end, unimportant. It's just a tool to help us find where our audience is gathering online, to provide insight into what they care about and the language they use. What matters is our ability to turn that insight into an executable plan to create a relationship. We must be relentlessly audience-led, not technology-driven.

The one thing technology does better than ever before is allow us to capture and use more data. Again this only matters if we use the data to improve the quality and frequency of the conversation, turning a deluge of information into insight.

When Aviva wanted to improve trust in the newly branded company by showing the public that recognition was at the heart of its brand, it could have advertised the fact. But together we developed the You Are The Big Picture campaign to engage people and ignite relationships with the brand. Aviva asked the public to donate a photo through Facebook for a chance to have it projected on to iconic buildings around the world. Eighty thousand people took part.

This was the start of a conversation that began to build familiarity and trust. It needed a bit of geekery to make it work, but it was the relationship created that was key.

In the end, building trust online is simple - it's more conversations, with more people, about the things they care about, more often.

Chris Norton is managing director at Blue Rubicon

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