The foundations of trust

Not only the Internet is built on trust. Successful businesses, teaching and personal relationships rely heavily on it too. But how does trust come about? Here are the three key factors that establish and carry trusted relationships, as long as they last.

In order for trust to be established, an investment needs to be returned in accordance with the subject’s expectations. Software crashes, late delivery of goods or responses, like e.g. ebay goods not arriving, shatter faith in a reliable service.

Repeated experiences and calculatable risk can enhance or diminish trust. These experiences need not necessarily be personal ones, but can originate from third parties or the media (see point 3 on ‘recognition’ below). The more often a train is late, the less passengers will want to take it.

A service and relationship needs to be relevant. Once Google search produces less relevant results, it’s value is reduced. Similarly, if a personal relationship has no longer relevance for the parties concerned, it becomes difficult to maintain.

Recognition carries social currency. People like to walk with the crowd to avoid unnecessary risks. Typically, the larger the number of people relying on a service is, the easier it is to trust. But recognition can also take other shapes than pure scale. Social currency from a known circle of persons (experts, friends) or an accepted authority (state, teacher) can go a long way with inducing trust. This explains why it is difficult to maintain a partnership with someone disliked by your friends, or why we trust national airlines more than budget ones. Note that price differences does neither produce nor reduce trust.

When introducing innovation of any sort, it is very important to cover all three areas well. Only then will the snowball start to gather momentum and grow.


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