Old-fangled ways to win trust in a new-media world

TrustWhen it comes to the brands they trust, Americans are actually more atwitter about new social media than old-school innovations.

And I mean put-a-stamp-on-it old school. According to the Ponemon Institute’s 2012 Most Trusted Companies for Privacy survey, the five top-ranking entities are: American Express, Hewlett-Packard, Amazon, IBM and the U.S. Postal Service. Not making the short list (or even the top-20 list): Twitter, Pinterest or Facebook.

In fact, the entire social media industry was identified among the least-trusted, along with non-profits and the toy industry. Facebook is in fact the only social media company to have ever made the list, and that was back in 2009, when it ranked 15th.

Why? My theory is that it comes down to creating mutual value.

Look at Amazon’s ranking of third. The online retailer has for years operated on a rather traditional concept: capture personal information and then use it to deliver messages that are helpful and beneficial. These suggestions and offers arrive through Amazon’s website and in emails, and their relevance to the consumer makes their value clear. Amazon gains from the insights, and users gain from sharing their personal information.

In the case of Facebook, I think missteps may be found in its level of transparency, especially given that Facebook’s primary currency is information. A couple years back Facebook ran into some problems when it was revealed that user “likes” were being sold to advertisers without permission. More recently, Facebook has made headlines for the development of a location-tracking app that would work even when the user’s mobile phone is turned off.

Yet Facebook membership remains strong, with more than 1 billion users, suggesting the definitions of privacy may be arbitrary. Ponemon itself acknowledges that privacy may have less to do with trust than a “gut feeling.”

For instance, 63 percent of those who took the survey said they’ve shared sensitive personal information with an organization they did not know or trust. This paradoxical behavior is evident as well in a recent privacy survey by LoyaltyOne produced, called Customer Data — Privacy, Profit and the New Paradigm.

Our report shows that only 42 percent of respondents trust companies with their personal information. Of that, 79 percent said they worry how much personal information is being held by others. Yet three-quarters of that same group said they’d share more personal information if it meant getting relevant service or product offers.

Accurately gauging consumer sentiment is an ongoing challenge, but I think we’re getting closer to understanding what it means to gain trust. Brands such as American Express, Amazon and IBM have longevity and integrity. It’s old school, but it works, as long as you work at it every day.


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