How to build and maintain trust in online communities

by Martin Reed on 12 October 2009 in Articles

encouraging trust in online communities

A vital element of a successful online community is trust. Without it, your community won’t be as strong as it could be – trust brings people together; it encourages people to share information and the more they share, the more others will share. Strong bonds result in a strong community. In this article, I’ll outline some of the ways you can build and maintain trust in online communities.

Who needs to be trusted?

As a community manager, it is important that your members trust you – after all, you’re the official ‘authority figure’, even though you should always be deflecting the spotlight onto your members. However, it’s more important for your members to trust each other. A community is about its members; how they interact with each other and the relationships they form with each other. The community isn’t about you.

Members of online communities will often mimic the behaviour of influencers – so it’s important that you lead by example if you want to encourage an atmosphere of trust in your community.

Be authentic

You can’t fake it. Members of online communities can smell a lie a mile off. If you’re not authentic, your members won’t trust you. If you’re not authentic, you risk breeding a culture of deception and half-truths. You’re not perfect, so don’t try to be.


Online communities share information. Members talk about themselves. The more information they share, and the more personal that information is, the greater the build-up of trust in the community. Measuring the success of your community by the number of discussions where members share highly personal and sensitive information is far more valuable than just counting the number of members you have.

You need to encourage information sharing. You can do this by sharing information about yourself and striving to create and maintain a positive community atmosphere with no abuse or name calling. Members won’t want to share personal information about themselves if they think they’ll be mocked.

Be unbiased (perhaps)

Deciding whether to get involved in discussions of a more sensitive or controversial nature can be difficult. As a community manager, you want to be seen as impartial but human at the same time. If you are always sitting on the fence, you’ll come across as a robot – hardly the best way to encourage relationships and empathy.

Share your opinions and show you are a real person – just be careful when it comes to getting involved in discussions that are likely to split the community. Some members might feel betrayed if you publicly disagree with them. Just be sensitive and you should be fine.

Be consistent

You can’t earn trust overnight. New members of your online community take time to fit in – existing members need to get to know them and feel comfortable around them before they will begin to be trusted. The opinions of new members count for less than the opinions of longer term members for the simple reason that they have a known history.

It’s a long term process

You can’t make many mistakes here. The odd slip up can be forgiven – as long as you openly apologise – but repeated breaches of trust can be irreparable. You can spend months creating an atmosphere and culture of trust only for it to be destroyed by one person who is allowed to get away with bullying other members or by you acting unethically.

There is a lot resting on this – you need to take a long term approach. But that’s what community building is all about.

Share this community building advice


Similar Posts

Previous post:

Next post:


Darrell October 13, 2009 at 12:07 pm

Wow, did this article open a lot of old memories in a good way. I have always been reminded as a home business owner that the key to building long term and lasting success is all about building a foundation of trust. Think about it for a moment. I remember many years ago, I was part of a group of like minded individuals that participated in a forum called “Our Network Home”. It was a place that would could inspire and share our thoughts of the day in an open and honest way without being judged. It’s no longer operational, but it really had a profound impact on my way of thinking.

That is really one of the keys to having a great online community is the trust factor. Without it, you won’t survive. Equally important for myself is the ability to leave comments in a way that I feel I have contributed something of value to the discussion or conversation. I don’t mind open and frank feedback, but there is a way to do it without trying to make the other person feel unworthy.

Everyone wants things to happen in an instance and I suppose that is one of the big drawbacks for the online experience. However, lets just remember, anything worthwhile takes time, patience and understanding.

So my question to your readers:

What is one thing you can do for someone else today that will make a small difference in their lives?


Nicole Price October 14, 2009 at 11:42 am

Absolutely essential requisite – trust. Since there is hardly any face to face transactions it is easy to slip up on this element and your warning is timely and to the point.

Mr Woc October 16, 2009 at 11:03 am

Hi there

This is well written advice and makes some good points, the only thing I might add is if you say your going to do something, stick to it lol !

I agree its also important to be consistant as people can often pick up on things you might not expect !


Casey October 22, 2009 at 5:50 pm

Online communities are still finding their credibility, at least that’s the current status at my website. We are trying to trust in each other and derive it from the real world community. Consistency has been our biggest selling point. Stick to the matter at hand and don’t waver.

Joey The Traveler October 23, 2009 at 8:12 pm

I really enjoyed this! I have been a member of several online communities, some of which flourish and grow and turn into real life networks, and some of which die on the vine. Reflecting on the failed communities, it’s interesting to think about how the actions of the community manager really helped to bring them down. The managers who were inconsistent or selfish in there motives always seemed to be the ones whose community members dwindled, where as the managers who actively participated without controlling things have communities that are still functioning today. It was nice to see this put into words so concisely in your post. Thanks!

Alexander Nikolic October 24, 2009 at 12:39 am

As with other communities, online communities should always cultivate a high sense of brotherhood, mutual trust does not lie with one another within the community including the community itself. More important sharing and consistent in implementing all the agreements that have been outlined by all members of the community.

Patrick Oden October 25, 2009 at 3:09 am

Not that I necessarily disagree with you, but do you really think that you can’t fake it? I have been a member of at least a couple of online communities where a person did lie and fake it and was only outed by a chance review of IP addresses that led to exposing the person as someone other than who he or she claimed to be.

It wasn’t the lies that were seen through. I don’t know, though. I tend to agree with you, in that I think these people would have been discovered as frauds eventually. But, they were able to fake it for a while.

I absolutely agree that members of communities will follow the examples of the leaders. No doubt.

Edmond Arnold October 25, 2009 at 7:03 pm

Good points in the post and comments – Building an online community takes time. There are hundreds of sites now like Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and many more that help you build and share content.

With a blog, you have to be consistent in your updates / posts – dont post something every day and then drop back a week and post again… people and search engines dont like that.

alvin October 29, 2009 at 11:53 am

I totally agree with you. Once a member sense that you are not being true and honest with what you are promoting in a group, you would not earn their trust.Hence, in all aspects of life especially in social networking trust is not given easily it is earned…

Martin Reed - Community Manager November 2, 2009 at 9:12 am

Patrick – So the deception worked until it was found out. How did the community react when it was found out? I imagine it didn’t go down to well – and that is why faking it doesn’t work.

Bobby Peacock November 17, 2009 at 11:03 pm

Trust is very important – with out it many business would crumble. What would happen if site visitors no longer trusted your website, why would they come back?

Paul December 3, 2009 at 2:21 pm

Being unbaised is very important. Some members are very opinionated and will get upset if you start to argue with them. Its best to just remain unbaised.

Sasch Nelson December 4, 2009 at 6:02 am

I agree Paul. with blogging and your community you need to keep a level head. remember people can spread what you say and how you say it. its important to understand that.

and its human nature that bad news spreads more quickly than good news

Guy Farmer August 7, 2010 at 1:08 pm

Thank you for the insights Martin. It’s valuable for community builders to realize that we build communities online in much the way we do offline. Building trust is about welcoming people, encouraging them to share, valuing their opinions and creating an atmosphere where people feel safe and respected. Community leaders build trust by encouraging members of the community to be themselves and contribute their special talents and abilities. As the leader goes so does the community.

{ 2 trackbacks }