Trust Is Social, But Social Doesn’t Equal Trust
By Jason Tan /
12 May 2016
What does trust mean to you online? What are the signals that identify a trustworthy person, and what’s the best way to quantify that? Adriana Stan, the public relations director at W Magazine, wrote an interesting piece in TechCrunch about what the future of trust looks like, and what that means for companies and consumers as social media becomes a more and more ingrained part of our lives.
Stan thinks that trust will be the ultimate currency of the future for brands – a driver of perception, authenticity and revenue that will ultimately replace traditional advertising and marketing. Where the piece gets really interesting, however, is when she explores what trust looks like in the future for people.
Trust may soon be a commodity that consumers not only want from the brands with which they interact, but demand to know about other people. It won’t just be about customers reviewing brands, but our own personas being attached to a score or reputation; people themselves will be “measured.”
Everything from our influence, social following, work connections, credit worthiness and beyond, could make up the metric of trust. This may end up deciding who gets upgraded on a flight, who can buy products from us or who gets priority customer service.
In this new world, our “trust score” will be the only metric that people need in order to make decisions on how to do business, and with whom. It effectively becomes the new credit score. For someone with VC funding, the opportunity in the next year to find a single metric of trust is huge.
Trust online is something I’m incredibly interested in. I’m particularly curious how people will be able to establish their trustworthiness online and carry it with them as they buy, sell, and interact with people and companies online. While Stan is correct that trust is becoming a more definable, measurable quality, she puts a little too much currency in what somebody’s social media presence can tell you about them.
Social media is merely a reflection of what a person thinks they are – a narrow window into what a person wants to project, rather than what they are. Influence, online following and professional connections don’t really tell you much about a person beyond their obvious social and people skills. Bernie Madoff was an influential man with a wide personal and professional network, but wasn’t at all trustworthy. That’s an extreme example, but it drives the point home.
At best, a future where trust is determined by social presence would be a Klout-driven dystopia where, as she suggests, a successful self promoter would get an upgraded seat. At worst, this type of system for determining trust has major demographic and socio-economic implications based on a person’s ability to access and interact with social media.
Trust is something that should only be measured by actions. Does a consumer have a proven history of fraud-free purchases? Do the people and companies they have interacted with have good things to say about them? Have they shown a consistent pattern of trustworthiness online?
All these things can be tracked today, and while they may not add up to an actual “score,” an enterprising engineer could very well take these pattern of actual behavior and build something that does just that. A trust score that becomes a standard online could radically reshape how we use the internet. It would make shopping, social media and even everyday interactions with people we don’t know safer and more enjoyable. The metrics that score is based on, however, must reflect our actual behavior rather than a projection of our sense of self.
Jason Tan is the Founder and Executive Chairman of Sift. Fueled by a passion for building great products and amazing teams, he's also held leadership and engineering roles at BuzzLabs, Optify, and Zillow.