Plenty of people aren’t feeling very trusting these days, and it’s easy to understand why after everything that’s happened since the start of the decade. Many saw their employers cast them aside in an effort to protect their profits. Many more were pressured to continue working in unsafe conditions, risking their health and the health of their families.
The lack of social contact stripped conversations of key tonal and contextual clues, making it harder to accurately identify sincerity. And then there’s the frustration of persistently being misled by regional and national governments alike. If we can’t reliably trust what public authorities tell us, particularly during such conditions, then we should remain doubtful.
This is a good reason why the formation of online communities is so important, but it’s also a major obstacle to overcome. After all, meaningful engagement in such communities requires mutual respect and trust. If trust isn’t there, you’ll only ever have a collection of individuals.
In this article, we’re going to cover some key tips for how you can build trust in your online community — encouraging the members to trust you and one another.
Be delicate (and honest) about monetization
It’s an unavoidable truth that running a worthwhile online community requires money. There are the basic hosting and management costs, of course, but there are also complex matters such as moderation: if you don’t want everything to descend into chaos, you need people to keep things vaguely in line, and it’s unreasonable — not to mention ineffective — to have them do it for free. Even automated alternatives to human moderation such as Crisp (a leading Zendesk alternative), while relatively budget-friendly, still require a significant up-front investment.
And if you’re running a truly worthwhile online community, it’s hardly unreasonable to seek that funding from the community members. When you do this, though, you need to get your approach right, because a sudden lurch towards monetization can easily seem cynical and exploitative. Unfortunately, simply accepting and encouraging donations often isn’t enough, but outright charging for use of your community will push people away — so what’s the answer?
There isn’t an easy answer, but the best thing you can do is introduce a range of monetization options so the cost is spread out. Are there branded products you could sell? Might you be able to create a subscription service? Perhaps you could create a monthly bundle of recommended products, put on a lean profit margin, and allow extensive buyer customization (easy with the right software) so your community members know you want them to have good experiences.
Whatever you do, be honest. Explain straightforwardly why you need the money and what purpose it will serve. Tell your community members that it’s all being invested in community management, and prove it through your actions.
Set an example by telling your personal story
On the topic of honesty, one of the most effective ways to earn someone’s trust is to show some vulnerability. Opening up about your life proves that you trust them not to exploit that knowledge through mockery, and encourages them to return the favor. Accordingly, you should get things moving by sharing your story. Talk about your successes, your failures, and how you decided to build a community. In other words, tell them what makes you special.
You don’t have to go through every last detail, but you do need to be authentic. If an issue makes you emotional, let that emotion shine through instead of concealing it. You can write a huge post about your story, but a better option might be to host a live stream for the members of your community. This will allow them to get to know you better, and reassure them that there’s someone in charge who actually cares about where things are going.
Clearly explain your community roadmap
Speaking of where things are going, every good community should have a roadmap setting out where it wants to go and what it wants to achieve in the near future. This should cover both organizational and technical elements. It could detail plans to grow the community through social media outreach, for instance, or set out intended upgrades for the mobile apps.
This is a vital concern when it comes to trust because it shows long-term commitment to making the community a success. No community is perfect as it is, so there are always improvements that could be made. It’s also true that people’s preferences and requirements change over time: consider that it’s not unheard of for a community that started out with a particular purpose to significantly revise that purpose down the line.
The last thing you want to do is keep the structure of your community fixed in place and see it fall behind the times, eventually leading to members leaving for more dynamic pastures. You need to read the room, pay close attention to feedback (though keep in mind that you’ll get conflicting suggestions), and change things up as needed.
Be graceful whenever a member takes a step back
No matter how good your community may be, it isn’t going to have 100% member retention, and you mustn’t fight against that. You should make every effort to keep your community as good as it can be, but don’t overreact when someone chooses to step away from it regardless. If you spam them with emails noting that they haven’t been online for a while and asking them why they’re not visiting your community, it’ll only serve to push them away.
Maybe someone in that position is just too busy to find time for community engagement. Maybe they’ve grown bored of the community’s purpose and need time to figure out whether they can rekindle their passion. Regardless of the cause, settle for a single email saying you’re sad to lose their input but will always be there if they want to return. Knowing that you won’t try to guilt them into staying will show that you deserve their trust, and possibly bring them back one day.
Wrapping up, there are various ways in which you can encourage the members of your community to trust you, but remember that there are no shortcuts. Each of these suggestions requires research, investment, and commitment. In short, winning trust isn’t a good option: instead, you must put in the hard graft to actually earn it. For more business guidance, check out our article on 6 techniques for improving your business’s visibility, or view all of our posts here.