Are You Trustworthy?

Can you trust this dog?

Business and personal bloggers might seem to be on two ends of a spectrum. On the one side: logic, strategy and profits. On the other: empathy, passion and heart. Never the twain shall meet, right?

There’s one point where they do come together, though. Whatever moves you to build an audience for your content, you need to inspire one key response.

More than admiration, money or attention, you need to earn your audience’s trust.

Prove you’re a human

It’s a weird, Bladerunner world when we have to prove we’re human, isn’t it? But the Internet is a giant tangle of mistrust, aggravated by the use of viruses, bots, spiders, and other not-human things that creep around the web making trouble.

Small businesses and sole proprietors used to spend a lot of time and money trying to look big. Big meant trustworthy. A big company, after all, had more to lose than some little guy who had just hung up a shingle. Big companies were stable and we expected them to behave themselves.

No longer. In the era of Enron, WorldCom and Halliburton, you’d have to be out of your mind to trust big for big’s sake.

As the man said, Small is the New Big. Let people know you’re a human being. Put your photo somewhere on your site—we’ve got deep and important wiring in our brain that lets us create relationships with faces.

Tell stories from your personal experience. (And don’t make yourself the know-it-all hero.) Talk about mistakes you’ve made, and how they made you stronger and smarter, even as your pride got a little bruised. Get as naked as you dare.

People trust people. You don’t need to get painfully confessional if that isn’t your style, but let your individual human personality shine through in the content you create.

Take a stand

I have long been plagued by the curse of niceness. I probably would have made a great preschool teacher. I think it would be just wonderful if the whole world would hold hands, sing songs and learn to share. I can nearly always see the other person’s point of view, even if I vehemently disagree with it.

This is a horrible quality in a blogger.

No, you don’t want to be a bitter crank or a narrow-minded bigot. But nothing is more boring than lukewarm wannabe writing that refuses to take a position.

We can’t trust a person who won’t come out and stand for something.

When you find yourself wanting to write, “on the other hand,” hold back. Let your commenters chime in with the other hand, or another writer on her own blog. Don’t try to hold all sides of the conversation by yourself.

My dad, a magnificently unreasonable person, is a master of the art of the rant. Some years ago, on a day when he had gone about as far over the top as a person can go, he paused and said, “That’s how I see it. You might see it differently.”

I absolutely love this phrase, and I try to use it often. I’m pretty sure these ten words alone could solve most of the suffering that plagues us: war, famine, the Twitter fail whale. They let you take a stand—even an outrageous stand, without claiming you’re the sole owner of The Truth.

Be bold. Take a position. Then greet differing opinions with a generous, confident spirit. Not only will your work get more interesting, but you’ll mark yourself as a trustworthy person with strong opinions, who values debate without being threatened by it.

Take care of your people

This ought to be obvious, but sometimes it isn’t. You must treat the trust of your audience as your most valuable asset. Trust takes a long time to build and an instant to destroy. No matter how tempting the payout, never go for short-term gains at the expense of long-term trust.

The most obvious example is never to promote affiliate programs or products that you haven’t thoroughly vetted, or that you don’t believe will offer exceptional value to your content community.

Promoting great quality will increase your audience’s responsiveness the next time you have something to offer. Promoting junk will trash your relationship, and your bottom line along with it.

Along the same lines, and a little harder for many of us, don’t link to content that isn’t great. The blogosphere is a social place, and we all want to link to our pals’ content because we like them. But it pays to be ruthless. Your loyalty must be to your audience first.

If you only link to wonderful stuff, your readers will learn they can trust you absolutely. They’ll look for your unique take on what’s worth reading today. Sure, sometimes your idea of wonderful and theirs won’t be the same. As long as you consistently point them to content you believe is exceptional, they’ll keep clicking through.

At the end of the day, earning trust is about putting the needs of your audience ahead of your own. Speak with a personal voice that shows your humanity. Let your actions speak as loudly as your well-chosen words. And treat the relationship with respect.

Earn their trust for the long haul, and your audience will follow you anywhere.

About the Author: Sonia Simone is an Associate Editor of Copyblogger and the founder of Remarkable Communication.

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Reader Comments (69)

  1. says

    Transparency is a great way to build trust – people aren’t looking for bulletproof heroes these days, they’re looking for people they can relate to (and trust).

    I think Naomi (from Ittybiz) and James/Harry (Men with Pens) nail this completely … and their audience grows as a result.

  2. says

    Sonia, I love that comment your Dad made- gonna use it. Sometimes I can be way too forceful about my opinions. Give others room to breath is my lesson for the day.

  3. says

    I appreciate the way you personalize your posts and bring the message home to me. You make a great role model to emulate. If I just persevere, I may learn the art of the rant as well as the art of the blog.


  4. says

    I think you have just written The Golden Rule for Bloggers. I sometimes feel as if I am writing, photographing, and blogging into thin air but I still strive for excellence.
    Best regards, Rosemary

  5. says

    Thank you Sonia! I couldn’t agree more and I believe that taking the personal approach, proving your trustworthy, makes being an internet marketer much more gratifying and that’s what it’s all about, right? (I’ll keep working on the ‘be bold’ part!)

  6. says

    I’ve often struggled with what I call “the authoritative voice” when writing. It’s tough to sound like an expert. But my writing always reads better when I am ruthless about editing away the wishy-wash. Good advice here Sonia, thank you.

  7. says

    An awful lot to think about. I’m just an individual blogger, not a business, but I can still take your message to heart.

  8. says

    My audience IS my most valuable asset, at least when it comes to blogging. Time is the most valuable thing we have. I know that if a reader is subscribed, then they’re giving me a loose commitment to their time. I want to do everything I can to show my appreciation.

  9. says


    I really appreciate the link you make between being willing to take a stand and trust. I’ve spent more time since I began blogging learning to hold back than I did in my entire life previously. Being terminally nice, dutifully presenting all views, is not necessarily a virtue on a blog. Thanks for this post.



  10. says

    Hi Brian: I am just amazed by the consistency of content at this site. More than any other site I pay attention to, this one has the most consistent & regular marketing thinking. Have a GREAT day!

  11. Jennifer says

    I didn’t know that being so personal with your audience was such a great tactic. I had been struggling with how I was going to create content for my blog. This article has really helped me create more clarity. Thanks!

  12. says

    Sonia – one of my readers posted a link to this blog on my forum and I’m thrilled she did! I preach a philosophy called “Sell with Soul” which includes much of what you say right here in your wonderful little blog about blogging. BE yourself… (yet) BE respectful… maintain the integrity of your referrals…

    Great stuff.. I must read more.

  13. says

    One of the biggest ways to gain a reader’s trust is to give them something better than anyone else. In the blogosphere that means helping readers cut through the clutter of all other similar information, inspiration or entertainment that’s out there.

    In the case of a developing blog like my own, it is equally important to trust yourself to create the right content and devise solutions for finding the desired audience. That way, when they do come, the pieces are in place to win the reader’s trust.

    That’s how I see it. You might see it differently.

  14. says

    Thank you for the insight. I have in the past, erred on the side of caution and perhaps come across as casper milquetoast . I really appreciated the “lukewarm wannabe”, it hit pretty close to home…. ouch! At least now I can fix it! Have a great day!

  15. says

    One of my older posts was entitled “Why Bloggers should show their Pictures on their Blogs” Proving that the blog was created by a human being is the first reason I mentioned.

    I think the problem with trust is that it is very hard to earn but very easy to loose. One mistake can destroy everything you worked for.

    But then, taking care of your people / readers is the best thing to do. When worst comes to worst, your followers will still trust you as you have already build trust.

  16. says

    Rosemary, you wrote “I sometimes feel as if I am writing, photographing, and blogging into thin air” – a sentiment I heartily understand, as I’m sure many of us do. For what it’s worth, I had a look at your blog and love it for its authenticity – don’t stop, keep it up!

    Thanks for the encouraging post, Sonia! Always good to get that external validation our inner compass is bearing in the right direction. Especially when it sometimes feels like we’re the odd ones out, no matter how passionate and pure our commitment is.

  17. says

    Thanks! Thinking about photographs and “trust” on your website…how recent is your photo and do you still look like that? Are you using a glamor shot or been adobe’ed to the max? If your readers were to meet you in person, would they recognize you?

    Just a few fleeting thoughts on a Monday morning…

  18. says

    LOL, Maggie. I can confirm that no images used on Copyblogger are actually me, including this one. Woof. :)

    I like it, Bill!

    @DOC, that’s because if we write mediocre stuff, Brian locks us in our rooms without supper. He’s very strict that way.

    @Liz, I agree, most of this holds just as much for personal bloggers as it does for biz bloggers. The same issues lie at the core, whether you’re selling a product or just selling people on reading and discussing your ideas.

  19. says

    Sonia, hurrah for heralding “Small” as the “New Big,” and for linking the idea to the importance of establishing trust. I just took my college daughter’s dog, a small Blue Heeler/Border collie cross, for a hike. Hagen and I are just getting to know each other, so I kept him on his leash until we were hiking on the path through the aspens, away from the houses. I trusted our budding relationship and the consistent training he has received from my daughter. He explored the woods but stayed within sight, readily coming when I called him. Our outing was a small one, but an important one. I spoke with conviction when calling his name, and he responded with confidence. A great metaphor, for those of us who blog, for our relationship with our readers. Thanks!

  20. says

    Great perspective on how blogging is breaking down barriers and making business a lot more fun. Some people just don’t want to take the risk. Really, we have a responsibility to do that – for ourselves and the people we serve in our businesses.

  21. says

    This was the most amazing, well thought out post I have seen in a long, long while. I like to Blog, but frankly, I’ve been getting overwhelmed by the cheezy products, fluff posts, and self-promotion I have seen going on in the Web World. You told it like it is. If folks follow what you say, they can sleep soundly, knowing they have made the world a better place. Kudos! G.

  22. says

    Hi Sonia. Being trust-worthy is the only way to go in any profession.

    Looking at the opposite, if you don’t build trust and give people a reason not to trust you, that will spread like wildfire, especially if your work is local.

    True that financial success can be achieved through dishonesty and a lack of trust, however, true success in life and business go well beyond simply making money.

  23. says

    Trust is King. Period. And this post says it better than I have ever seen. If people do not trust you and what you write, you may as well be selling hamburgers at your local food place. Being human is all to easy-showing it sometimes is difficult. Rocking hot post.

  24. says

    I must agree and sound like a recorder, but trust is the finality when people are reading your material. They either trust that you will entertain,educate, or inform them in some manner or another.

  25. says

    @HighGrace, the nice thing about all the cheese is that the path is open for us to differentiate ourselves! The less trustworthy the world gets, the more valuable our trustworthiness becomes.

  26. says

    Great post Sonia. I completely agree with what you’re saying. Having that human, personal touch makes all tje difference. I hate dealing with call centres and automated responses that lack human interaction.

  27. says

    I am not sure who coined the phrase, “If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything”, but it is right on the mark.

    I love to read blogs from writers that seem to be speaking to me. Over time, I really feel like I know them, and of course the trust level rises in direct proportion.

  28. says

    Focusing on building trust means you make a thousand little decisions differently, which add up to a big effect. For example, in the ads vs. no ads debate for a new blog, trust-building puts you squarely in the “no ads” camp. Ads without a trusting audience can hurt you in the beginning. That’s just one example of how that goal changes everything, even beyond your writing.

  29. says

    interesting post.

    But for me the key is ‘people aren’t looking for bulletproof heroes these days’

    (but people are going to work harder for you precisely because they aren’t bullet-proof)

  30. says

    I’m guilty of trying to write from both sides of the fence in an article. I’m an engineer in my day job, and I get caught up in trying to address every little pro and con in my articles. I forget that writing doesn’t always have to be logical…

  31. says

    @Nimic: This may help you. Check out Ned Herrmann’s work on “Whole Brain Thinking”. Your engineering left and cerebral brain is dominant. Exercise your right and limbic brain by letting go of the detail and telling a story. If you want to know more, just ask me.
    – Maggie

  32. says

    @Sonia Thanks for the response.

    @Doug Firebaugh I like your idea that “being human is all to easy-showing it sometimes is difficult.”

    Unless you are curmudgeonly, we all want to be liked and respected and showing the less than flattering or less than admirable sides to our character or the decisions we make is difficult to do. But without flaws, how is our audience going to identify with us as people? We just have to have a sense of humor about them and not be so consumed with controlling other people’s perception of us because, you know, you can’t control it.

    @Page Lambert That’s a touching story but I hope that you aren’t comparing your readers to a dog who’s gone through obedience lessons. Because I don’t know about you but in my experience, readers do what they want when they want. And they can instantly perceive any condescension the writer might have for them.

  33. says

    @Liz – thanks for your comment. I agree, readers are way too astute for an author to be condescendng, and I hope I never am. The relationship my daughter has with her dog is based on mutual respect and the trust that comes with consistency. Rather than training, perhaps I should have said “communication.” When we consistently communicate with our readers in a responsible way, they develop trust in what we say. Readers know when writing is authentic, and when it’s not, just like animals seem to instinctively know who they can trust.

  34. says

    Very well put Sonia. Bottom line is trust I agree. As a business owner myself it is imperative to me to be seen as resourceful as well as human and not just someone peddling around or pushing their products. That trust is built when I provide value to someone else, even if it means offering free advice. It is in the spirit of community that is given and that community is also built on trust.

  35. says

    That’s one of the best posts I’ve read this week. I could also add that it would be a good idea to add your bio, or a couple of personal sentences. I don’t feel right about adding my photo (I got some real concerns) but I think I will get past that.

  36. says

    It is of utmost importance that you build trust with your clientele. Otherwise, you will not move forward with your business. Customers are the lifeblood of any online business, once you capture a certain audience’s trust rest assured you have formed an alliance sufficient to keep your business going. :)

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