Social Media, Neuroscience & The Trust Molecule
I happened to catch a rebroadcast of the NPR program Speaking of Faith this weekend, a show I never listen to. I need to introduce more serendipity into my life because the show is not in my pre-programmed media diet and were it not for dumb chance, I would have missed the episode on The Science of Trust, featuring an interview with Paul Zak, founder of the field of neuroeconomics.
The discussion focuses on the “trust molecule” scientists have discovered, the hormone oxytocin, which acts on regions of the brain that regulate emotions and social behaviors, are key to determining whether we will trust lovers, friends or business contacts.
For those of us interested in social media, the notion of trust is one we should study intently. When we talk about the practice of communicating on the social Web, two words are often at the core of our conversations: Transparency and Authenticity. What we’re really talking about is Trust.
As we see from study after study, societal trust in institutions has plummeted over the years while trust in family, friends, or “someone like you” is on the rise.
What the social Web does, with its ability to connect people to one another and with the lifestreams from services like Facebook and Twitter, is create a sense of intimacy and that sense of intimacy builds trust, even among people who have never met in real life.
Turns out, there’s a physiological dynamic to trust. In this interview [MP3], Zak says that “Trust in other people correlates strongly with trust in government and institutions.” The more you demonstrate your trust in people, the more people trust you…and the more generous they become.
For those of us trying to help organizations communicate online, we need to understand the dynamics of trust; of how it is created and how it is destroyed in this new real-time online environment.
For me, the most striking thing to come out of the interview is the idea that the key to the con is not that you trust the con man, it’s that the con man demonstrates his trust in you.
That’s not to say, of course, that we should be con men but that we need to help organizations understand the value of demonstrating their trust in their customers, audiences, constituents, employees.
We have to help them understand that there is a tremendous amount of value to be gained by establishing that trust and that more often than not, that value will be far outweighed by potential risks.