Trust and Influence in Community

Communities are built on the backbone of trust and are shaped by its members and their ability to influence one another.

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I think of trust as the belief and expectation that a certain outcome will come to pass. It’s a mental model for making sense of the world. The model is built by summing up past experiences and measuring the perceived reliability that a specific outcome will occur again.

For example, I trusted the quality of the education I would receive from Penn State based on the many years it has been in operation and the vast number of students that graduated in the past. I used that trust to make a decision to attend for undergrad.

But trusting something does not guarantee an outcome, like a living thing, it can grow with proper nourishment or die if neglected. I had a friend buy a used car from a dealership with a strong record of past sales and happy customers. She was told the car she was purchasing was working well when she bought it. As it turns out, the car was not in good shape and has required thousands of dollars of repairs in the 6 months following her purchase. Her trust in the dealership has fallen considerably.

When someone establishes themselves as trustworthy, they provide evidence through past events that they have the ability to replicate a specific outcome with some consistency. On the flip side, a person or organization can develop a reputation as untrustworthy when they consistently don’t do as they say. In the case of the dealership, the salesman represented the company in the transaction and his perceived shady sales tactics have cast doubt on the dealerships trustworthiness.

This experience with the salesperson has started to impact his reputation. I think of reputation as a type of currency that is capitalized from past experiences. The more action an individual takes, the easier it is to build a profile of the persons behavior. Reputational currency is one way human’s exert influence on one another.

Does the sale of one bad car erode the trust a community has in the dealership? Probably not. But if it gets around that more than one car has considerable issues shortly after the sales are finalized then the dealership may begin to get a bad reputation. If the trust and reputation of the dealership is poor, its ability to influence their community will be diminished and the sale of cars will decrease.

Reputation and trust impact the ability to have status within a community.

Status is a sometimes formal but often informal position that can be conferred on a person or group by a community. Its a ranking or pecking order and status is granted by society as a way to understand our influence over others. Local car dealerships struggle to build positive reputations so they can achieve high status within the communities they serve. Being ranked above rivals often provides them with access to more customers.

People and organizations use their influence to get what they want out of a community. They try to maximize the influence they have by enhancing their reputation and status through varying methods of signaling. Signaling is like a type of marketing or story telling that is used as a way to showcase past experience to establish trust and reputation. The goal of signaling is to enhance influence within a community to achieve a desired outcome.

Trust and reputational currency are essential for community building. In order to generate community there must be a bond created through positive and mutually reinforcing reputation. Entering or building a community often means building credentials that corroborate what is true. Ie: A paper trail of past experiences that verify the truth behind what is being signaled to the community.

Therefore, when building a community from the ground up its important to establish an authentic means of trust and reputation you can then spend that currency on influence. Work to establish a public and highly visible means of showcasing trustworthiness, creditworthiness and a positive reputation. Trust, reputation and the influence they confer are the backbones of community.

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