Community, consistency, human connection and relevance: how to build trust online

We know how to build trust face to face at live events, but now, when everything is moving into the virtual world, we need to learn how to build trust online with our clients, supplier sponsors and other stakeholders. 

On 12 March 2021, I hosted a virtual session at ITB Berlin together with Elina Jutelyte, Founder of the Freelance Business Community and Heidi Legein, Managing Director at The MICE Guru. The educational MICE stream was hosted by VDVO and covered key topics on the current agenda. 

In the past 14 months, we’ve been using a variety of online communication channels for education and networking, and this session looked at the differences of building trust online vs offline, how to build trust effectively and examples from virtual events organised by the panellists. Below are the key takeaways.   

How does building trust online differ from building trust at face-to-face events?

According to Elina, ‘Building trust online is not new to us. We have already been doing this online for a while because, in order for people to meet face to face when we used to do live events, we had to build trust online to convince them.’ 

‘Building trust online includes multiple factors: your presence, communication style and frequency and the message that you pass along.’

According to Heidi, ‘When we meet someone face to face, there’s that instant feeling. It’s an energy or a vibe. You immediately decide whether or not you trust this person. That’s based on their body language, facial expression and so on. So, if you don’t have that communication face to face online, you will need to rely on other things.’ 

‘I’m a big fan of video interactions, and I also see that through all of the trust-building and communications that we do online, the ones where you have yourself or another person in it that creates that human connection are more successful.’

How do you build trust online? 

According to Elina, ‘First, it’s necessary to remove barriers to engage with you. The moment someone has difficulties, for example, with a registration form or any other tools or methods that you use to engage with participants, the moment there is a stopper, you lose that moment of trust that people already offer you by giving their time. So for me, it’s respect of the time of those deciding to engage with you and making the journey as smooth as possible. Second, when you already have the connection, and you know you like each other, then the actual listening to each other in attempting to build partnerships and understand what that person wants at that stage or later on and trying to deliver. And when you deliver, to be next to that customer, participant, sponsor or speaker as they need you. For me, trust is about mutual (rather than only one-sided) collaboration.’

Heidi talked about micro tribes—a community within a community of like-minded individuals. ‘For me, it’s been very much about building more of a personal connection with people in the last couple of months. People trust your brand when they trust you as a person. Again, I’m going back to that human factor, but I believe it’s become so much more important lately in this pandemic situation. Community building has become a thing that every company should be thinking about. And in your community, you should be supporting each other. You should be helping people, not only with issues related to an event but also on a more personal level for whatever everybody’s going through, trying to design, the events they’re attempting to launch, the projects they are doing, the highs and lows, such as whatever they’re feeling. You are there as a support community for those people. And this support builds trust with your community—that is how people will be more eager to collaborate with you and more eager to attend your events as well and provide their support and feedback. And you can build on that. That human factor, community, micro tribes and, of course, your content, is very relevant. You build a stronger relationship through community and micro tribes.’

We continued to share two event examples that each organised—the Freelance Business Month and the Digital Trip 

The Freelance Business Month was a one-month-long event organised by Elina. According to Elina, it was a highly useful experiment that offered a substantial amount of learning. It was a new project, having never been done before. Ultimately, it was a very ambitious project. ‘The goal was to convince people that this is something worthy of their attention. In the planning phase, we thought, ‘What is required? What are the interests of people—the participants (freelancers in our case) to whom we will promise to deliver and then actually do so. So, I think that was the first step we began with engaging them personally by interviewing, showing interest in what they do and showcasing that this is the place for them to be and get the answers to their questions, and involving them as speakers and partners. This relationship was built based on trust, where we promised something, they engaged with us, and they got the results.’ 

Elina continued, ‘Later on, throughout the event, we were evaluating the moods. In the middle and at the end of the month, we were asking specific questions to see if we were still delivering, “Is the trust still there? Would they recommend it? Would they come again?” We realised that it was necessary, therefore, for this project to continue in the future.

Heidi’s Digital Trip was a two-day event that included a long campaign leading up to the actual live event. According to Heidi, ‘We started to build the story from about eight weeks prior and in that communication, our main goal was first to show the benefits to our audience. Obviously, it’s always about communicating your value proposition but to have more emphasis on the fact that it’s something nice for them. It is nice to participate because they will have a networking element, and they will learn something new about a destination. They will be immersed, have a good time and experience something new together. It was very important for us to bring that message out.’ 

‘We began with our core community and had people talk about it: about what we’re doing and that we’re endeavouring to do something different by pushing boundaries. It’s talking to many people in the industry and doing interviews to bring that message, show yourself repeatedly and remind people that you are working on this event and that it will be something truly special for them to attend.’

‘I think it’s important to have this consistency and be out there over a longer period of time to build the trust towards the actual event days, and then it obviously doesn’t stop there. You must engage your people during your event but then also continue building that community and working with the same people. It is important to keep spreading the word, ensuring that the event is seen afterwards and inviting those people to connect with you and build on what you are working towards as your next project. But it’s all about the connectivity and the message that you put out there—a personal message—particularly during the current COVID-19 pandemic. You’re helping people who will feel that their event will contribute to their current situation. That’s what’s important to communicate.’

To conclude, breaking down corporate barriers to communication is essential for building strong trust via online channels. Today, communication occurs via multiple channels, even ones that might seem less ‘corporate’, such as Instagram, but that are used by the audience. By allowing communication to flow, building a community on a certain channel and being approachable, consistent, sharing content that is timely and relevant and showing up are essential to creating a bond with the audience that will continue to build trust over time in the virtual environment.

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