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.
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.
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.