As we begin to trust more and more of our private data to cloud companies such as Dropbox, Mint and Facebook it is becoming critical that the companies clearly communicate their intentions and principles, and then unfailingly act on them. They must be authentic. In the current online ecosystem of small, single-function companies such as Dropbox and Mozy the relative anonymity of the company hasn’t slowed adoption by users. It seems that when it comes to trust, no information is just as good as positive information.
This can’t be sustained as the company grows though, as sooner or later the public will get more information about a company and its owners, executives either through direct communicatin or the press. Once this happens, the trust will only be maintained if the personality of the company is trustworthy (think “Don’t be evil” over a chair-throwing Ballmer) and they act authentically to support their personality.
For small companies, the trust seems to start at a tangible level, based on things like privacy policies and practicalities. I trust my data to Dropbox because really, with 3M+ users, they’re not going to dig through my docs. As the company develops more personality, their actions and communication need to be authentic to that initial trust in order to sustain it. I trust my email to Google and my friends to Facebook because I know that while they analyze my data to show me ads, they won’t jeapordize my trust by acting inauthentically. In both cases, their trustable personality has become their greatest asset.
What do small companies need to do?
1) Establish tangible trust.
2) Always communicate authentically
Authentically means you act in accordance with the trustworthy policies you established in (1). This is where your corporate personality starts to take shape, and you need to work to communicate in a professional, trustworthy way. I’ll trust data to a few kids in a garage, but only if I thnk they have a long view that values retained customers and pride in their work over a quick buck from a marketing company.
3) Recognize that trust as your most valuable asset.
Once you have company that customers implicitly trust, you have to protect that with everything you’ve got. Your employees and communications all will impact your ‘personality’ in a postive or negative way.