Trust-Building: You’re Doing It Wrong

Are you familiar with the Laffer Curve? It was an economic idea leveraged by the Reagan administration to show how an increase in the tax rate would actually result in a decrease in government revenue. The idea was that if you continue to raise the tax rate it would reach such a point causing people to change their behavior (i.e. no longer pay taxes, stopping work, and fraud would be the extreme response). So no revenue at 0% and none at 100%. Somewhere in the middle you get maximum return on the tax rate.

Can this happen with the social currency of trust? Can we over do trust-building efforts to where trust actually diminishes? I think we can and I think it’s happening.

At a recent dentist appointment my doctor informed me that I will need a crown on a back molar. It appears a faulty filling led to decay and the tooth is too fragile.

Got it. Completely believable, when’s my next appointment? 

But he wasn’t done. He prepped for an inter-oral camera and took a series of pictures of my teeth. Then he displayed the detailed, colorful images and showed me what he saw. He’s my Dentist, he’s treated me numerous times, I already trust him due to previous experiences so why all this hoopla? I’ve seen these camera’s used before. In those times I felt like being convinced for less medically necessary actions. I felt like he went into auto-pilot, zombie-like, he pushed some internal play button and it was obvious. I now had some doubt where I didn’t before.

For the record, I don’t believe he was trying to up-sell me, I think it is a misguided practice and his approach is not atypical. There are reasons for this type of preemptive activity happening across many industries today. For starters we do have a global trust issue. Wrong doing at all levels of business and government in recent years has rightfully led people to question every action. This has resulted in many business leaders having a heightened sensitivity to the issue and strive to be more pro-active about building trust. In an effort to get ahead of potential trust problems, business leaders have sought new ideas and examples to leverage; best practices if you will to appear more honest and caring in an effort to build relationships, improve employee retention, put people first, etc.

But too much trust-building can result in the appearance of duplicity.

Businesses are applying a wide range of trust-building tactics and there inlies the problem, they are well-known tactics, often plug-in-play with a little contextual modification. In today’s world, transparency means employees and consumers alike are just as aware of them and too many tactics can appear as tricks. So how do you as a leader know when trust is built? When do you know you are crossing the line? This is tricky, it’s a gut feeling, its found in reading body language or online, it’s seen in the depth and details of conversation responses.

People are individuals and cookie cutter approaches should never be applied even when the intention is sincere. This is hard though. We like formulas and patented approaches but this, trust-building, is different. It’s about being human and being human is just about being honest, flawed, natural. Being human is not a strategy.

Of Social Tools And Toys

Twitter is for morons and b-level actors.” 

I remember reading this in a Newsweek article in 2009. Funny thing is five years later I find many still believe this, and why not? Traditional media and late night talk show hosts do a wonderful job of highlighting only the harmful and the humorous. But what they don’t know is how powerful this and other social tools are too many people for learning and growing through networks.


This got me wondering about who, how many and what in regard to social tool use.  Might there be a 90-9-1 use of social media?  If you don’t recall, the 90-9-1 rule is where 90% of networks are made up of the equivalent of virtual voyeur, 9% contribute periodically, and the golden 1% create all the content that the lurkers and contributors consume or add to. 

I wondered then, when it comes to social tool use, do we have a comparable breakdown?

90% actors
9% marketers
1% makers

The 90%
No doubt social tools are a narcissists dream, where everyone can get their 15 minutes of fame. Traditional media does well to point out the sensationally bad behaviors of individuals and blames the medium as much, if not more than, as those making the blunder. These majority users aren’t morons, as they still widely use social tools to connect and learn, yet much use is for telling their personal story with all it’s comedy and tragedy displayed for the world to see. 

The 9%

Most businesses only toy with social technology. These “9%ers” build social brand promotion campaigns, sterilizing their customer “engagement” and then push so hard for ROI they excrete their humanity in the process. The hemorrhoids, of course, are too numerous to count. These companies rarely seem to get “it” right, but when they get it wrong, they get it really wrong; enduring black eyes for the silly games they play. Their half-baked approaches get chewed up and spit back in their faces like when they hijack a hashtag to sell a dress in the midst of a shooting or get into pissing matches with unhappy customers for the whole world to see. Who’s the moron?

The 1%

The minority however are those getting the greatest value. They are using it in strategic ways that bypass old models, as one group’s toy is another group’s tool. All their activity is happening under the radar of the status quo; not much mainstream press for their success. Through networking, sharing and collaborating, they are silently growing skills and knowledge. They are finding unique ideas, challenging content, and brilliant minds through open sharing and humility. Each of their engagements is a stretch assignment, a mentor meeting or a chance for large group reflection. They are making progress through relationships. 

Of course we can’t be pigeon held to one area. Just like 90-9-1 isn’t a hard and fast rule where we are locked into one of three convenient lables of lurker, contributer, or creator. We are all simultaneously actors, weaving our tale. We are marketers, building our brand if we see it or not. And we are all makers, from time to time bringing value to others.  But I do think, through seeking and sincere interactions, the minority today don’t just retain their humanity with these tools, they learn more about it and how powerful and rewarding it is to be real.