6 Ways to Build Consumer Trust in the Age of the Internet Guinea Pig

First, the news broke that Facebook toyed with its algorithms to see if surfacing sadder content could make users’ own posts sadder, and vice versa. Then OKCupid boldly admitted it suggested matches that its own software said were incompatible, to see what would happen. OKCupid founder Christian Rudder said in a blog post, “… guess what, everybody: if you use the Internet, you’re the subject of hundreds of experiments at any given time, on every site. That’s how websites work.”

Not exactly. While companies do optimize their websites, it’s usually done to create a better experience for customers. There’s a clear bargain made when a company has data on the personal interests and habits of site visitors: We’ll use it for your benefit, not ours.

Despite the cavalier attitude of these tech execs, consumers do care about privacy. The overwhelming majority – as much as 88 percent – are worried about the privacy of their data. Even if they seem willing to accept being used as guinea pigs by a couple of social networks that provide free services in exchange for sucking up their personal data, when it comes to companies with which they do business, it’s a different story. They’ll reward those companies that clearly respect the sanctity of their personal information – and clearly communicate that – with their loyalty. They’ll engage more deeply. They’ll reveal more as it becomes clear that this two-way communication results in a better experience for them.

The nonchalant data fiddling engaged in by Facebook and OKCupid could erode consumers’ trust in Facebook and their willingness to use social sign-in for company websites, and that would be bad for brands and consumers alike.

The advantages of social sign-in for businesses are clear. First, enabling this simple login process can boost social login boosts registration conversion rates by up to 33 percent. Second, social logins enable access to rich, actionable first party data that can be used to personalize the digital experience. This personalization benefits consumers, who can more easily find what they’re looking for, as evidenced by the fact that 40 percent of consumers buy more from retailers who personalize the shopping experience across channels.

Here are six steps to assure consumers that you won’t use them as guinea pigs and will treat them with respect:

1. Rewrite your privacy policy in plain English.

Most companies’ privacy policies are posted in miniscule type and are written in lawyerese. When researchers at Carnegie Mellon looked at the time it would take consumers to read the privacy policies of each website they visited at least once a year, they estimated the value of the total time spent as around $781 billion per year. Instead of asking your customers to spend their own precious time to understand how you’ll handle their personal data, spend some of your marketing dollars on a brief, clear statement.

2. Provide clear notification about how you will use data – and how it will benefit your customers.

You should be able to clearly explain what each request for information will provide. Marketers talk a lot about “personalization,” but consumers need more specifics about what this is. For example, you can say, “Log in to receive personal recommendations,” or “Create an account to save your shipping information.”

3. Provide simple tools to let consumers manage their own data and privacy settings.

Showing your customers that you respect their privacy should be a simple matter of providing them ways to opt out of sharing certain data points. Make it easy for socially logged in users to choose what parts of their social profiles are shared with their business with a simple, user-friendly interface like this one used by Major League Soccer below.

4. Let consumers tell your story for you.

Trust is a process that happens over time, through many interactions. But a new customer doesn’t have to start from scratch in getting to know your company. Consumer reviews and ratings have become established as the go-to source for people checking out a company, and studies have shown that these are more trusted than information provided by companies: 88 percent of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations (up from 79 percent in 2013) . While consumers are used to checking reviews on third-party sites, putting them in proximity to the purchase decision can help seal the deal.

5. Use privacy seals and certifications.

Gaining third-party certification helps assure website visitors that a business adheres to established best practices for data management. Post information about the certification standards on your website, so customers understand what you’re guaranteeing.

Then, include the seal on the login screen and throughout the registration screens for your website, so that consumers are reminded with every interaction that your business is following specific guidelines for social data collection and usage.

6. Incentivize consumers to register and share their personal preferences or to use social login.

It can be difficult for consumers to understand the idea of personalization, even though they may unconsciously appreciate it. Offering incentives can increase registration and social login, allowing you to access richer personal data. Incentives can included VIP status, special one-time offers or the promise of ongoing, members-only promotions and rewards.

National Car Rental, for instance, recently launched One Two Free, a promotion for registered Emerald Club members that lets them earn one free rental day for every two qualifying rentals. It also incentivizes members for referring their friends and connecting via mobile.


Building and maintaining the trust of your customers isn’t difficult, but it does take time, thought, diligence and perseverance. The flouting of their expectations of privacy and respect for personal data presents an opportunity for companies that are willing to take the extra steps to prove they’re the good guys.

By Susan Kuchinskas