Trust: The Vital Ingredient

I like all of the questions for this week’s topic, but the first one grabbed me more than the others.

Trust isn’t something I had really thought about until this point in the course, but from looking at the readings it seems obvious now that different types of trust underpin social media use in different ways; in fact, social media would barely exist if it weren’t for their users’ trust.


A social network running on trust

Kennedy and Sakaguchi have a great definition of ‘trust’ as it applies to social networks: it reduces complexity in a complex world and enhances the potential for collaboration. The more I read this definition, the more I like it because it implies so much. The ‘reduces complexity…’ idea makes me imagine a network of people in which all the members, including me, share something in common. Even if we’ve never met face to face, that commonality brings a level of comfort.

A reduction in complexity also implies a focusing of attention; it makes me think that an effective social network somehow assists each member in reaching his or her full potential by removing the need to worry about extraneous matters. This idea continues in the second part of the definition: if we have a network of focused, productive individuals, what might happen when they take advantage of the network’s potential for collaboration?

But all of this comes back to trust. So what are the conditions that make people want to join social networks and use them in the way that Kennedy and Sakaguchi imagine? I think we can break them down into matters concerning other users and matters concerning providers (we’re starting to overlap with the ways that organisational culture can affect adoption at this point).

We can’t know everyone else that’s on a social network, so we have to be able to trust that the other users are acting honestly and for the common good when they participate. This is where privacy enters the picture: can social media work within organisations if users are anonymous, or must everyone give up a certain amount of privacy? Speaking for myself, I would feel a lot more comfortable posting under my own name if I could be fairly sure that I wasn’t being monitored by management in case I said something that they thought was out of line. As several of the readings point out, this is a great way to stifle social media’s creative and collaborative potential. Miller almost mentions the Panopticon in his article, and with good reason: the Panopticon is based around the idea of people regulating their own behaviour because they never know when they are being watched. It’s a great analogy for organisations that have the power to observe employees’ activities on company equipment whenever they choose.


So the organisation should also trust the employees. This goes for productivity (“People will sit around editing the wiki all day!”) but also for employees’ ability to speak for the company through social media. As Miller points out in his article, companies like Southwest Airlines have had success in letting employees seek out discussion on social media to proactively offer help when they see people complaining. I think this is a great example of collaboration even though it’s a little different from the typical ‘group working on a single project’ definition: it’s collaboration not only between the organisation and employees working towards a common goal, but also between the employees and the public reaching solutions together.

Trust is at work in so many different ways throughout all of these interactions that I’m starting to think of it as being just as important as infrastructure, user literacy, accessibility and all of those other fundamental success factors that we bring up when discussing new systems. There are still more forms of trust that I could discuss as well: in the security, in the ways that user data is being collected, in an investment in a tool that doesn’t offer immediate quantitative value, and probably a lot more.

So, would you trust your company not to go over all of your social media posts with a magnifying glass or should people not worry, provided they have nothing to hide? How much personal data are you willing to supply to service providers, assuming that doing so could enhance your social networking experiences?


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