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Trust Me

When we make decisions, we look to people we trust to decide what we should do. For the fifth principle of the Powers of Persuasion series, we take a look at how your organisation can build trust online.

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When we make decisions, we look to people we trust to decide what we should do. Just as we are more likely to respond positively to a friend we trust, we are also more likely to respond positively to brands and organisations we trust. For the fifth principle of the Powers of Persuasion series, we take a look at how your organisation can build trust online.

How trust works

Here's how Nathalie Nahai describes it in Webs of Influence:

Whether through shared values or other perceived commonalities, when it comes to being persuaded by sources of information (such as people or brands), we tend to respond most positively to those we perceive as likeable, credible and similar to ourselves—a principle known as homophily (love of the same).

Think about the people you trust—they may have credibility, or expertise, or be in a position of authority. All of these examples can be used on your website.

A core component of building trust is being genuine and transparent. We believe users know when they are being duped, and they may go on the defensive as a result. Most people can spot a stock model on a website against a 'real' person. Turn on your TV and you'll be able to spot many examples of attempts to build trust without telling the truth. For example, some advertisements put actors into white coats to make them look like doctors!

Working in the public sector means you likely have an advantage here. Your organisation probably has a positive impact on your community and we need to demonstrate what it is.

Ways to build trust online


Credibility is crucial for trust. If your service helps people in some way, then consider showing real stories, facts, and numbers. When it comes to credibility, size can matter. How many people in the community has this project helped? Another way of putting it could be, how many people access your services? If you're using numbers and statistics, find ways to make them concrete, and therefore easier to remember, as the book Made to Stick suggests. Here are a few concrete examples: this has more fat than a Big Mac, enough paint to fill 20 Olympic size swimming pools, or this costs less than a cup of coffee.

To establish your credibility further, look at ways to show your expertise. This could include videos delivered by your resident expert, or even by writing blogs and fresh content.


Whenever you're handling a user's personal and private information and data, demonstrating security is a must. The more personal the information, the more security is expected to protect it. Examples of showing higher levels of security could be displaying any security certificates or badges as visual reminders to the user. Of course, if you’re offering online payments, then the use of secure and trusted gateways will be essential.

Part of building trust is to tell your users what you are going to do with their information, and how it will be stored. Even if they are only subscribing to a newsletter, make sure it is clear what they are 'signing up for' and anything else that might be sent to them as a result.

Non-verbal cues

If you've studied body language principles, then you'll know that a huge percentage of the communication we deliver is non-verbal. Body language experts say gestures such as crossing the arms or closing off the body can decrease the effectiveness of communication. We can use these principles in any visual images. For example, to build trust, we'll want to demonstrate people with open postures—no crossed arms! Another handy trick for showing openness is to put your palms facing up. When working online, you may want to watch out for things like arms and hands being hidden for this same reason.

Establishing trust online really comes down to knowing your audience well, something we’ve already touched on. If people like things that are similar to themselves, then we need to understand what and who they are. Trust then becomes an exercise in designing any of our messages, verbal or otherwise, to match their needs.

If you are looking for more ways to influence your audience, download the Powers of Persuasion eBook today! 

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About the author
Claire Hodds

With qualifications in marketing, communications and journalism, Claire has more than 10 years experience across a range of industries. She is passionate about continuous improvement and applying insights from behavioural economics to marketing strategies.

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