Online Trust is Fragile: Why Herman Cain hasn’t quit yet and other modern era mysteries

I’m fascinated by politicians like Herman Cain and Rick Perry who hang in there – along with their most loyal staff and supporters – long after everyone in the outside world can see that they’re dead in the water.  Why the difference in perspective?  Of course, a huge piece of it is simply the momentum that a candidacy has, and the desire of the candidate and the people close to him, having gone this far, to hang in there and not give up. 

But there’s something deeper going here.  We’re experiencing different realities because our perception of public figures like Cain and Perry largely come from television and the Internet, whereas the insiders get their impressions from having seen him in person or having worked with him. 

We’re hard-wired to ‘read’ – unconsciously – a person who comes within our personal orbit.  We develop a sense of what that person is like.  We trust them, or not, depending on the unconscious cues we get.  And so a relationship that is formed in person has some strength, and may well survive a disappointment or two.  If someone we know and love behaves like an idiot, we say to ourselves, “he was having a bad day,” or “she was off her game.”  We attribute the screw up to circumstances, and not character.

Online, it’s different.  Trust is much more fragile, because it hasn’t been reinforced by those unconscious face-to-face cues.  So when someone that we know virtually misbehaves or does something apparently stupid, we’re far more ready to write them off as a lost cause.  We attribute the screw up to character, not circumstances. 

So when you’re thinking about the relationships you form online, with your suppliers, your customers, your fan base, and so on, think about how fragile they are.  If you screw something up, expect a much more brutal, instant reaction from all those online people than you get from your face-to-face colleagues.  They’re deciding that your character is flawed.  Your mother will give you the benefit of a bad day. 

BTW, if Cain quits tonight, it will be another triumph of the virtual over the real.  Because more and more, it's the virtual that matters.

Comments

  1. says

    Hi, John –
    Thanks for the comment. And I agree. Trust is a factor of closeness (face-to-face is strongest) but also time. So when a virtual relationship is reinforced over a longer period of time, with a number of interactions, it gets stronger. Yet it still is unlikely to become as strong as the face-to-face….

  2. says

    Nick,
    I agree superficial trust built online can be fragile. I also believe that if we take the time to connect and nurture individual relationships they are not so fragile. If you watch the really good ones they reply to blog posts, they direct message in reply to Tweets and re-tweets. Some even pick up the phone to make that next level of connection.
    I would suggest that those bods are a little tighter.

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