Fostering Trust in Digital Engagement

Geoff Revill challenges you to think about Trust in your Digital Activities

World Cultures at the RAMM
Geoff’s Trust Model for Digital Engagement

I had a highly enjoyable evening @DigitalExeter on the evening of 28th Jan 2016, speaking about fostering trust in digital engagement to over 60 attendees. Coincidentally it was #dataprivacyday, not planned, just fortuitous. This blog accompanies the slideshare of the presentation I gave that night to help you understand the underlying narrative.


The first thing to think about is that one has to plan to build a company that is trustworthy, not one that has some marketing veneer that seeks to engender trust. Time is the great discoverer, so how you operate, the culture of your company will come out eventually, especially as you grow, such is the nature of the highly connected digital social world we are in today. So being trustworthy has to be real, not a manufactured commodity. This means it’s more about HOW you build your products and services than the nature of the product itself. Think on this – our entire economy is based on trust. Take out a 5 or 10 pound note, and read what it says “I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of” signed the Governor of the Bank of England. We trust this loan note in order to do business. All the banking infrastructure is based on trust – its why the recent bank issues have potentially such profound impact.

Our government is treating us all as if we are a bit dim, they make great play on their investment in cyber security, as if this is the root cause of trust problems online today. This is a simplistic PoV, and discredits the intelligence of most consumers who intuitively understand it’s about a lot more than that. That’s not to say building your products secure by design is not important, its just that we have to accept every single system that’s online for the next 5-10 years will be hacked, the stats are clear. Security is an arms race and no one can stay ahead of the race all the time, even the NSA, Snowden proved that! So build a company that will be resilient to the breach when it occurs, not if.

Privacy by Design

A company that builds highly secure systems could still be selling your data or using it in ways you don’t comprehend. So it’s about respect for privacy then? Well, yes…and no. Privacy by Design is invoked in the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and over the next few years you’ll be asked to validate you built your systems that way, as well as secure by design. But as privacy is a human right, then really all we should be doing is inculcating these values into the operational side of our business. But neither directly address engaging trust from customers, they are in effect gating conditions for a trustworthy company. You cannot foster trust unless you embrace these concepts. But you need to do more. We need to minimize the data we hold because we know it’ll get breached one day, and our customers will suffer if we have not worked hard to mitigate their pain.

In my talk I did a straw poll, one that I do at every recent event (to date that’s to well over 400 people) – and I ask the question “Did you know when you bought your mobile phone contract, you agreed to have your movement continuously tracked and made available to the mobile phone company for commercial and marketing activities?” At best I get one definite yes, and tonight was no exception. So far that just over 0.5% of consumers knew. When I advise the audience that with just that data and no other, I can figure out where they live and work, where their children go to school, who their lovers are, how fast they drive, whether they use the train regularly, who their friends are….even though you never ever connected with them digitally! The audience response is, well, not positive for the mobile carriers, its yet another nail in the trust coffin.

The presentation highlights a series of recent stats about how we are all becoming reluctant sharers, due to a lack of trust. The underlying cause is something scientists call cognitive dissonance. It’s the basis of many Big Data acquisition models. Its relies upon us sharing lots of data for an immediate benefit with no thought of the consequence upon ourselves or society tomorrow. Except that its been going on long enough now that the consequences are coming thick and fast – and they hurt us as individuals a lot more than the companies who are being breached. The Ashley Madison breach may have indirectly caused some suicides!


The real issue to address if you want to build trust in digital engagement is empowerment. We all need to empower our customers with existing rights over THEIR data, what is collected and how it’s used. More than that we have to give them the tools to balance the consequence equation so that our business will suffer as much as they do if trust is lost in our product or service. Nothing will motivate a business more than customers with reasonable level of reciprocity when trust is lost.

So the 3 steps or empowerment that will build trust are:

  1. Control – Give customers control over that data, who its shared with and why
  2. Transparency – Make sure your customers are fully informed about what data of theirs you hold, how you use it and who it is shared with and for what purpose. Make this simple to understand.
  3. Remedy – If your business fails your customer, in their judgment not yours, empower them to do something about it in a way that impacts your business immediately and directly

  4. In other words trust your customers if you want them to trust you. Make your business as vulnerable to them as they are to you. That’s the basis of a relationship of trust. There is no reason the digital society should not fully embrace the same values that have held modern society together for so long.

Slides from the Presentation


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