9 Ways to Lose the Trust of Your Audience

Image of Abandoned Basketball Hoop

Know. Like. Trust.

You know the formula by now. When you accomplish that holy trifecta, you’re well on your way to earning a paying customer. You might even win that customer’s loyalty.

But your readers have very sensitive slime radars.

You don’t even need to be a complete slimeball to discredit your character. Your readers’ trust issues may not trace back to the words you say or write — they could even be inflamed by the stuff you don’t say.

Here are nine ways you might be losing your customers’ trust (without even realizing you’re doing it).

1. Your brand does all the talking

If you don’t let your fans and readers interact with your brand, you’re just being a used car salesman.

Perhaps your website is devoid of dialogue. Maybe you don’t have a blog, a forum, or published reviews of your business. The voice on the site is only yours, and no one else’s.

You have all the answers, but no one was given the chance to ask a question.

Why does your site lack opportunities for interaction? Perhaps you’re fixated on moving product out the door as quickly as possible. Or maybe you’re just not interested in what the customer has to say.

Either way, when your brand does all the talking on your website, you’ve got a recipe for distrust.

2. You’re anti-social

I know, I know. You don’t have time for social media.

You actually checked it out. You even set up a couple of accounts. But after a month of sharing your opinions and pitches, nary a cash register rang.

You think you’ve proved it — Facebook’s not worth liking, Twitter is for the birds, and you never really figured out what Google+ was supposed to be about anyway.

But don’t fool yourself. Those billions of customers you’ve chosen not to connect with are going to find relationships elsewhere.

3. You write for robots

Consciously or subconsciously, the heavy-handed practice of keyword stuffing is a certain mistrust trigger.

Do not compose copy solely to get attention from search engine robots. Even if you get the ranking you covet, you need to remember that robots don’t have wallets.

Write for people first, and search engines second.

4. You’re not helpful

If you don’t offer your audience a hand, it’s the same as blowing them off entirely.

In the online world, the most fervent servants have the most loyal friends. A generous giver of help and advice grows the trust that builds great brands, while the holdouts are left out in the cold.

5. No one’s home

Nothing says “We’re too busy for you” like a site with no email address, phone number, or address.

There’s only one reason you would withhold contact information from your clients, and that’s if you just don’t want to be contacted.

And spare your audience the “chat now” button on your home page — unless there really is a customer service rep standing by to take their questions.

If you want to be liked and trusted, you need to remember that someone who wants to contact you is a probably a prospect (or a media rep who want to give you some free press.) Either way, you need to give them a quick, easy way of getting in touch with you.

6. You’re never wrong

Companies are people, and people make mistakes. And, as a public figure, people will call you on your mistakes.

If you react by getting defensive (or by pointing fingers), you’re bound to see your trust quotient go down.

7. Your place is a mess

When you walk into a store that is messy and unorganized, you’re probably going to leave and not come back.

If your website is cluttered and noisy, or if visitors can’t easily find what they’re looking for, you’ll make a bad first impression. In many cases, you’ll never even get the chance to develop trust.

Is it time to do a little housekeeping?

8. You’re using bad words

Visitors come to your website to read. The copy they find on your site will welcome your potential clients, turn them off completely, or make no impression at all.

Turnoffs include spelling mistakes, poor grammar, blatant bastardizations of the language, clumsy sales pitches, clichés, and jargon-laden nonsense that people struggle to decipher.

Clean up your copy in order to roll out the welcome mat for your visitors.

9. And finally, there’s your plain old bright green slime

The trust killers we’ve covered above are generally innocent ones. The guilty party probably didn’t mean any harm.

But you could be a shady character, trying to get away with something that’s actually nefarious …

  • Bait and switch sales tactics
  • Convoluted fine print
  • Overly aggressive cookies
  • Fabricated testimonials
  • Privacy policy violations
  • Unsolicited emails (spam)
  • Difficult (or missing) unsubscribe protocols

Let me be clear: Don’t do these things. Ever.

These (and many more variations of them) are all slimy tactics, and some of them are outright illegal. Stay out of the “green slime.” Always. Forever.

Be good

You can’t beg, buy or borrow trust. If you want it, you have to build it one article, podcast, tweet, and headline at a time … and that takes effort.

The current citizens of the web have the most finely-tuned BS filters in the history of publishing, and hands that are never far from the back button.

So be good. Be ethical and honest. Be present.

Be like the people you trust most — the ones who are happy to help you.

Emulate the people who help you, because it’s the right thing to do, not just because it’s lucrative.

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Reader Comments (68)

  1. says

    I thought I was going to lose trust when I wrote about how to learn life lessons from pickup artists, considering their negative reputation. I actually really like James Altucher because of how honest he is and how crazy some of his headlines are, for example, “I’m Guilty of Torture” which originally was going to be “I Torture Women.” So I find it funny because actual honesty can also lose trust.

    • says

      Interesting observation. Hard to agree with, but if it’s your integrity at question, I’d suggest maintaining a dialogue with your readers. If you’re trustworthy, it’ll come through, even if you’re taking some risks with what you publish.

      • says

        I know what you mean, Barry. I’m actually glad I wrote the article. I’m confident that in my introduction I made it clear that there definite misconceptions about the topic I was covering.

  2. says

    Good list Barry and one worth revisiting.

    I do admit I am an anti-social in terms of social media but I do have a twitter account which I’m monitoring as to whether it justifies the time investment.

    I did contemplate not having a contact page too as I have so much to do that I didn’t want anything else added to my plate. But then I figured that someone making contact can only be good news as long as it’s not spam.

    • says

      (1) You’ll get out of social media what you put into it. (2) At the risk of stating the obvious, contact pages are for people to contact you. Entirely up to you if you want that.

  3. says

    Thanks Barry for this awesome list. You have showed important points here.
    The best way to build turst is to try to be an authority. When you become an authority you will be able to influence people. Like any of Copyblogger readers. They buy any product they offer, just because of the power of influence that Brian has on us.
    A simple tip to be an authority is to learn as much as you can, and share as much as you can. Then you can make money by repackaging information.
    Thanks again for this awesome post Barry.

    Ahmed Safwan

    • says

      Great question, but it strikes me as a tad rude to call out fellow netizens. I’d be willing to bet something along the line of 90% of websites would be guilty of rule #1. Somewhere, somebody must have published the percentage of sites without blogs, without helpful content, etc. Can anyone help me out here?

      • says

        Barry, that is what I meant – no names, just experience. And I wanted to ask you about rule # 5 as well. How much contact information is enough? Should a company post every single way they can be reached (including contact form, e-mail, social networks pages, etc.)?

  4. says

    Nice post. Readers can see through a lot of the techniques listed above. Writing for robots may get you a little boost in traffic initially, but as soon as your readers find out that you’re a wicket services company, selling wickets in Chicago for people who like wickets, they can start to see through that a little bit.

    Why not educate us, and give us the pressing information we need about wickets instead. And for God’s sake use a pronoun!

  5. says

    “Those billions of customers you’ve chosen not to connect with are going to find relationships elsewhere.”
    Great point! I’ve talked with so many site owners that feel that social media just “isn’t for them” and when you dig a little deeper you find out they created a Facebook page and…and that’s about it. No wonder you it “isn’t for them;” they might at well not have anything!

    • says

      Mr. S., I sure hope you’ve published an article somewhere about the benefits of reading blog posts and making valuable contributions in the commentary that follows. You’re the master commenter.

  6. says

    #5 used to be the norm, and there are STILL so many people who refuse to give us anything but a contact form. Yes, you might be working from home — but get yourself a PO Box! A real mailing address AND a phone number are so important. Also – who ARE you? What’s your name? I see a lot of About Pages where folks talk about the business but not the owner behind the biz. People want to do business with people. Not brands (as you pointed out). Tell us WHO the heck you are.
    I recently wrote a post that tackles this topic from a slightly different angle. Would love your take on it: http://marketingsnake2013.com/2013/02/06/the-7-dwarves-of-snake-oil-marketing/

  7. Mary Montserrat-Howlett says

    Many good takeaways here, Barry. I see a lot of #1 and #3 happening, as though we’re still loitering in the Web 1.0 age, static and devoid of interaction. The challenge/solution is to help brands see the value in transparency and -as you point out- the merit in truly trying to help people. The most difficult part is breaking the “push” marketing mentality and getting brands on-board with the big picture of their online presence. All the social tools at our disposal shouldn’t be thought of as superfluous, they are a means of creating a living, breathing brand persona that people can really “Like”, relate to and evangelize.

    • Jordan Riggle says

      But the difficult part as a copywriter for all these businesses still stuck in Web 1.0 is how do I convince executives, who are used to being in complete control of their brand image, to let go and create transparency? I’ve chatted with several Creative Directors who simply view their website as one big billboard, and have no interest in allowing any sort of meaningful interaction because of the risks of negative feedback.
      I guess I’m asking you Mary, how do you show these folks that there’s value in “creating a living, breathing brand” when they don’t have the reference or framework to hear what you’re suggesting?
      I’ve found it best just to pre-screen clients and steer clear of any who sound control-freakish when it comes to their marketing. No use trying to persuade those who don’t want to be persuaded. What are your thoughts?

    • says

      Preaching to the choir Mary. Look for Jay Baer to publish the ultimate guide to “help marketing” this summer with his book, “Youtility.” I like to think of content marketing as “proactively answering questions.”

      Jordan, I’m with you on giving up on the hopeless ones. For the ones who might listen to you, I’d try showing relevant examples of companies with leaders who are approachable and establishing online relationships. Start with UFC’s Dana White. The dude tweets to millions of the fans who follow the sport and the results speak volumes.

  8. says

    As a bit of an introvert, I first wrote on my blog in a distant, stand-offish way. The writing wasn’t bad, but I can see now that I wasn’t writing blog posts, I was writing for classroom assignments.

    It took me ditching my safe writing to get “social” on my blog and to then get social elsewhere. I think I was on Facebook for two years before I uttered a word. Then, finally, I added a page for my blog, which at first just sat there until I’d announce a new post. But then I started actually communicating, which I actually like after all.

    I was in sales for 12 years, in a busy market, and something that struck me one day was that if I didn’t form relationships and genuinely offer my value to people, then someone else would. Because you’re right, if you’re not connecting with people, then you’re turning away business.

    My blog is pretty much for entertainment purposes, which I don’t take lightly, but as of the moment, it’s not a business blog (but of course, everyone’s selling something). But I have a business blog in the works, and appreciate this post, so thanks.

  9. says

    Hi Barry, great advice. Especially about the excuse of “I don’t have time.” That is my most common downfall but I am working hard on it and planning it into the routine of my day.

    I am going to print these out and put them next to my computer as a reminder. Thanks for the help!

    Any helpful hints about how to juggle business social media and personal social media? Sometimes I find myself really hitting the business social media hard and then my personal activity dries up…I need to work on that.

    • says

      Cool question Hunter. You might consider merging them a bit. If you’re opposed to that, I suppose the hint I’d offer is to establish objectives for your two SM agendas and apply your time accomplishing them. I suspect the business one will earn more of your time, but be personable there.

  10. says

    Writing like a robot is so true! It seems like you’re trying to impress someone with the language too. Very cheese, greasy hair, plaid suite, too much cologne comes to mind. Possibly gold chain?

  11. says

    I am, currently, watching my company’s competitors work way too hard to gain attention because they break rule 9 all the time. People just won’t care about you over the long term if you blab on and on about jargon in your fine print. The much better alternative is to write blog posts that are relevant and useful.

  12. says

    MaLinda, sounds like your company’s competitors are headed to the dreaded online obscurity. You can only talk gibberish for so long before people turn away. On home pages, that tends to be a few seconds.

  13. says

    Great article Barry. I couldn’t agree more. Having the trust of your audience is a major key to a successful online career. I have an online business which helps people learn how to make money by starting a successful online business and building trust and a solid rapport is one of the key points I focus on and teach. You need to constantly over deliver and always ask your list if there is anything you can help out with. So many people hide behind their computer which is a shame. The computer should be used as a tool to reach out and help others.

  14. says

    Great truths and I would expand bad words to include cursing. It’s become cool and practically required in some genres, but you will lose audiences like mine immediately when you use profanity.

  15. Brian Aldridge says

    Very good post! I was about to add profanity to point #8 but Melanie “stole my thunder!” I agree with her 100% – such words cheapen (or at least dilute) the message. In any event, this article is a keeper! Well done!!!!

  16. says

    I thought about that one (profanity) while editing this. It 100% comes down to your audience. Some are comfortable with it, some embrace it, some will immediately leave.

    Content that displeases no one tends to have a tough time finding an impassioned audience. We have to chase some readers away in order to attract the others who will form the deepest relationship with us. But that doesn’t mean you should use profane language if it’s not important to your message.

    • says

      Sonia, I’d like to read more on the idea that “content that displeases no one tends to have a tough time finding an impassioned audience.” Completely agree, but I honestly hadn’t considered it before.

      • says

        Y’all check out “The Power of Unpopular.” Well, on second thought, there’s a lot of potty mouth in there, but the author drives Sonia’s point home in the biggest way.

  17. says

    Very good. I like where you said, “Do not compose copy solely to get attention from search engine robots.” Key keep talking SEO (?) and it’s hard to write for my audience if I have to write like a robot, inserting key words to get found. I write first. Other writers like me wonder about SEO and how to be genuine at the same time.

  18. says

    I think no. 8 is one of the most common mistakes I’ve seen working in this area…. but also is one of the easiest things to correct because you can ask for a spell check and text review from anyone, not only from an expert.

  19. says

    Brilliant example of a great business model. I must admin that No.2 is a downfall of mine and i’ve never utilized social media to it’s full ‘potential’. I think i’ll print this off and stick it on the wall!

    • says

      Stick that on the wall, your monitor, your forehead, whatever it takes. If you’re going to build a business in these times, it’s time to build relationships with your customers.

  20. says

    I’m starting a new blog and the article here would really help me in focusing towards the right direction. Will try to follow all the points told here with my unique style of writing. Hope it comes out good! Thank you Barry Feldman for posting this article in a plain and simple way :)

  21. says

    Some great points here. I too have been interacting much less with my readers and result is that my blog has lost much of its readership. My goal this year is to be super active on most of the social platforms and build a strong community around my niche.

  22. says

    Interesting title Barry, and the article too.
    In most points, I do agree with you. More agreed with the #2 point that, going social and win audience’s trust. Ignore socialize and lose their trust!

  23. says

    What I love most about this post is that it comes still @ an early date in the year. It’s just too bad so many of us learn the hard way through failed business strategies bcoz of these basic faux pas. Nevertheless, we can still make some radical changes and move on base your tips in this blog. Great work!

  24. says

    It is always good to give customers chance to evaluate companies in their own way without pushing down their throat what companies what them to hear or know about them

  25. Gayle Haugen says

    Great post, Barry. We should keep these in mind as we strive to BUILD trust, not only keep trust.

  26. says

    Really, Barry? So, what you’re saying is to actually connect with your readers? To be a human being? Hmm.. I dunno, seems sketchy to me:)

    Great post, thanks!

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