When it comes to real estate, they say the thing that matters most is location, location, location. Similarly, when it comes to online influence, your user experience must foster trust, trust, trust. Winning online trust will take you down the road to success. Losing online trust can completely undermine everything you do.

In my last post, we discussed some of the clues that your digital platform or campaign may suffer from a credibility deficit. In this post, I’m going to discuss the fall-out from low credibility—which is low trust, or worse mistrust.

Let’s start out by looking at things from your user/customer’s point of view. Take a typical customer who has found your website and is interested in your product or service offering. Maybe you’re selling a cloud service, software, some product, or service, or maybe you’re a non-profit organization “selling” your cause and trying to solicit volunteers.

While this prospect is experiencing your website for the first time, they’re going to ask themselves a lot of questions about you, your company, its products, and your brand. However, the ultimate question is one of trust, where they want to know if you’ll deliver on your promise, if you’ll be there should things go wrong, and if you possess the expertise required to meet their expectations. If their user experience offers reassurance that you will honor your promises and deliver results, then they’re likely to trust you, which boosts the odds that they’ll buy your widget, act on your advice, or remain open to what you say.

Hopefully they have had a good user experience, and things are working out for you. But quite often, it’s easy for things to go wrong, triggering users to mistrust your website or online marketing content. Once people mistrust your digital presence, they’ll generally deem it risky, and steer clear of it–unless of course, the risk/reward ratio is tempting, in which case they may gamble in some cases, such as making a purchase on an e-commerce website that looks questionable, but offers an amazing price. However, in most cases if users don’t trust your online properties, they won’t believe a thing you say, and they’ll normally refuse to act on anything you propose.

There are perhaps a few reasons why mistrust can completely undermine your online engagement. Most people are pre-programmed to detect fraud and avoid harmful situations, so if nature hasn’t predisposed most people to fraud avoidance, nurture generally teaches people that it’s extremely dangerous to act on the advice of liars and fools.

So in a worst case scenario, if your user experience triggers a mistrust reaction, people may perceive your digital properties like a “wolf in digital sheep’s clothing”, and avoid you like a Viagra spammer or Nigerian billionaire asking for your help with a profitable bank transfer.

The science of persuasive design shows that users judge trustworthy or untrustworthy digital media, in a way similar to how they judge trustworthy or untrustworthy people. This makes sense as there are always people standing behind digital media, so ultimately, trust in digital media or technology is like an extension of trust in the people behind those media. We’ll it’s actually a bit more complex than this, but for now, let’s think about it in this way.

So if you want to build more persuasive websites, social media profiles, online ads, or apps, it’s important to build your interactive products or campaigns on a reliable footing that people can trust. When people trust you, they're more likely to believe what you say, agree with your opinions, support you, and act on your advice. When people don't trust you, they'll generally disregard what you say and rarely act on your advice.

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