Consumers trust each other more than they do the various organizations that turn the communications firehose on them every day, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article.
The piece, about Web 2.0 marketing, has an important implication for public involvement, community relations and other coalition- and network-building professionals.
One potential remedy for the persistent and often widespread mistrust of government and other large organizations may be to unchain (let alone allow) full public discussion of motives, actions and results on those organizations’ own blogs and websites.
The vast majority of such official sites do not allow public comment (except in narrow, heavily moderated instances), outbound links to special interest group sites or other mechanisms that promote unfettered dialog. The fear is that doing so will expose people to “crazies” who will muddle the discussion with erroneous information about public policy, large-scale projects or other initiatives.
Such fears may be beside the point. No highway project, for example, was a great success because people were able to accurately cite the basic facts about it. Such projects are a success when people are confident that the sponsoring agency is truthful and trustworthy.
How does a non-technical stakeholder make that assessment? By personal experience with the agency. By witnessing how – and how effectively – the agency responds to the questions and criticisms of others. And by evaluating how others assess the performance of that agency.
These avenues to to trust, confidence and support, however, are blocked by a non-existent or highly controlled Web 2.0 dialog between large organizations and their stakeholder. In fact, such a dialog may force stakeholders to detour into information exchanges with the very “crazies” that policy makers fear most.
On the other hand, the fastest route for winning stakeholder confidence may simply be to throw open completely the conversation mechanisms you control. Doing so will be scary and uncomfortable at times; that’s guaranteed.
But empowering stakeholders to air any question or concern, no matter how unlikely or unreasonable, provides you and your organization a continuous showcase for proving that you are open, honest and constituent focused. And in the end, the result will be that those whose support you need most, the broad middle of the spectrum interested in the right decision above all else, will trust you to make that decision even if they don’t understand every technical detail.