Today, however, with nearly ubiquitous digital technology and the social web as our arsenal, the walls of hidden truths collapse with a single YouTube video or a blog post that forces a response from the blogger's target. Everyone has the power to share the truth and expose deception.
Large institutions, which for a long time remained comfortably hidden behind the walls of spin control and one-way communication, are responding (for the most part) with fear and confusion. Will the minions storm the castle and demand more cake? Yes.
"Today, it's not about repairing trust, it's about reinventing trust. Social media is widely open, and you can contact me in a variety of ways," according to Deb Lavoy, an engineer and director of product marketing for digital and social media for Open Text Corp. "You are not speaking to someone who can't act. I can inquire of your company and see the conversation taking place, and, instead of an abstract sense of your company, I can approach a company and the individuals within it."
By putting a human face on an institution, we can connect to organizations and find out if they are honest. The truth we seek is reflected in action. The "phenomenon" of transparency and trust that is discussed on blogs and at social web conferences across the nation is nothing new. While many of the mechanisms have changed, it is, in fact, a return to old values.
A key piece of those old values is that trust is built and earned over time. It begins with ears, eyes, and mouths-not numbers, machines, processes, press releases, or PowerPoint presentations. How trust is sustained from this point forward, however, relies on all of us.
"Organizations have been trying for years to have these perfectly polished messages target needs, wants, and desires and to create an image in that customer's mind. Now, relationships are not created through polish but through people," says Lavoy.
A New Age of Trust
The advocates of earning trust via the social web could care less about the next new Facebook app or if Oprah is tweeting. The tools of today are just the beginning of what many hope and believe is a shift in thinking and the start of a new age of trust, respect, and progress.
The movement to bring trust back via the social web is at its infancy. In their book Trust Agents, Chris Brogan and Julien Smith offer the idea that you can tap into social web influencers to transform your stranger status into reputable confidant. Brogan, who is president of New Marketing Labs, sees this happening in the corporate world and believes it will continue to grow.
"There are lots of authentic organizations working on things. Dell is doing a great job rocking the social web. Comcast is working hard to build a more customer-service-friendly culture. Zappos sold for over $1 billion because they understand the importance of customer service. 'Tis the golden age of it if you ask me," according to Brogan.
In December 2009, Telstra, an Australian telecom giant, took a bold step forward by implementing a social media policy with its 40,000-plus employees and then sharing its social media training guide with the world. The company recognizes that employees will engage in social environments such as YouTube and Facebook, but it also shows, via guidelines that are presented in a comic book format to employees, how bashing customers, or Telstra, in those communities will hurt the brand. The guide is an open window into the Telstra culture.
While some believe that the company is trying to apply "old rules" to new media, the move by Telstra shows how some large corporations are dipping a toe in the open water of building trust with the outside world via social media openness. Oddly enough, corporate culture could learn a few things about opening up from-of all places-the U.S. military and government.
"The types of things the military are doing seems unfathomable from when I was there," said Steve Field, former Pentagon spokesman and author of the D-Ring blog, where he discusses how the military uses new media. "The army has a dedicated division and headquarters that focuses on social media. Previously, it was looked on among the cynics as a fringe element of the media-bloggers typing away in their pj's. Now it's a dedicated part of the process."