Trust Issues In The Online Environment - Why consumers trust some organisations and brands more than others in today’s society

Written by: Edona Berisha



- Why consumers trust some organisations and brands more than others in today’s society.

KEY WORDS: online, trust, influencer, Internet, relationship marketing

The last twenty years marketing online has become a central part of marketing. This, mostly because of the rapid adoption of the changing technology that have emerged both positive but also negative effects. It is now crucial to understand how consumers act and behave on the online environment in order to survive. When consumers are online it is important to provide trust to help them overcome all kind of negative perceptions that comes with the online environment. The changing technology has also motivated consumers to contribute with their thoughts and opinions about brands and products, to their peers (O’Brien, 2011). The marketing manager has now a total different role, namely understanding and managing the fact that influencers on social media has the power to affect brands positively or negatively. 

Trust Issues Online

Trust is according to Mayer et al. (1995) “the willingness of a party to be vulnerable to the actions of another party based on the expectation that the other will perform a particular action important to the trustor, irrespective of the ability to monitor or control that other party.” Trust is something that have been seen as important when it comes to communicating, building relationships and exchanging (Fukuyama, 1995). The consumers put themselves on risk as the environment is uncertain and includes various types of unknown players. Trust is important online in particular where it is important to develop relationships since marketers are not able to cultivate inter personal liking as they would in offline environment (Palvia, 2009). 

Trust Matters

Trust has become something that is being used to deal with all the uncertainties, and is according to Gefen (2000) something that is considered as one of the most reliable predictors when interacting with others online. Trust has with other words become key role in the online market these past few years and will probably play a higher role as the online market develops. According to 2016 Edelman TRUST BAROMETER a new phenomenon have emerged, where the influential people of governments, NGOs, business and media are the ones with the least trust among the mass populations. It is with other words a huge gap between the mass populations and elites. Today’s well-developed and social technologies have changed the dissemination and creation of content in a democratized way. The study shows that the mass populations don’t trust the informed elites when it comes to any kind of information. Therefore many seek out new ways for information regarding any type of life decisions, preferably from family, close friends and fellow employees.

Knowing this, businesses are facing a challenge in today’s online environment, and some might not even be aware of the challenges or opportunities. The opportunity and challenge is how to best reach the influencers who in turn engage their peers, classmates, or co-workers. This means that the trust and power in a way lies on the everyday people who are digital natives. 

Trust Is Not Given; Trust Is Earned

This shows us that it is really important to improve the public’s trust and Edelman has identified the main areas where businesses can do this, namely actions, values, engagement and employee advocacy. CEO’s should engage in solving social and economic problems through specific actions, for example through job creation. When it comes to values they should make a human connection with the mass population by communicating their values. It is important to get the public engaged through the online environment or wherever the target is reached best.  It is also important to adopt a strategy for employee advocacy and engagement in order to get a broad cadre of spokespeople that can earn trust from the mass people. Employee advocacy is when you get your employees engaged to speak good about the brand(s). To succeed with this it is important to get your employees to stay satisfied with their work and your engagement (Eisenberger et al., 1986). According to the study, employees feel more motivated when they have a CEO that is engaged in societal problems. The employees also feel more willing to stay at the same working place and recommend the company when the CEO is taking responsibility in those kinds of questions.  With other words, it appears now more than ever before, that it is just as important to consider who is talking about you, as it is to consider what is being said. The employees are the one’s who can recruit new talents that are going to work for you, sell your products, can inform consumers in a more natural way, and build deeper connections to the market. Therefore it is not only important to earn trust and respect from consumers but also employees so that they want to do this.


Edelman claims that in these four areas, corporate improvement is all the more necessary. The reason is the pyramid of influence that has turned upside-down. The mass population used to listen to authorities that was at the top, but now that has changed and we do no longer pay attention to them but more to our “social media family”.  In order to reach everyone’s “social media family” one has to exist online. In todays society the ultimate way to get immediate response and communication is through online marketing (Allan & Chudry, 2000). Earning trust as a marketer online differs from how you earn trust “offline”, since in contemporary marketing the customers expect tailoring and interaction.  According to Grönroos (1998) it is of high value to make a commitment to enter into a dialogue with consumers and offer them valuable offering and then try to collect as much feedback as possible in a tailored and personal manner. Those that are able to get to know who the interested consumers are by collecting data that is relevant, will highly likely be able to start developing trusting relationships (Casielles et al, 2005).  The reason why organisations use much more personalisation on their marketing today is because it is easier to collect relevant data from customers browsing behaviour and search patterns online with today’s technology.


Influencers Online

Smith and Zook (2011) claim that the ultimate customer might be someone who doesn’t buy very much but is an influencer that can attract many new customers. This tells us that influencers online are the ones who have become the co-producers of brand/product information (Shao, 2009).  There is much research available showing that customers only consider themselves and marketers when they interact with different websites. Lately, this has changed a lot along with the online market as a whole. Potential purchasers and individual browsers are being influenced by others. Seeking out opinion from other people within the personal social sphere when purchasing, is something we have done in a long time. However, the social sphere can now be widened considerably thanks to the online environment. And since the online environment is more perceived with risks it is even more important with online word of mouth. According to Lee et al (2011) advertisements are less trustworthy than online reviews and thus have a more positive effect on consumer decision-making. Consumers have the facility to search after opinions and other information on online reviews. The last couple of years, online forums have been changed in order to enable brand enthusiasts to open up for discussion regarding the downfalls or benefits of brands and products. These sites have become opinion leaders for some markets. is a good example of a key opinion leader within the travel market. Communities online give consumers opportunities to learn more or express their opinions about a specific topic in an environment that is of lower risk. It is of lower risk because the content that is being shared is based on publicly available material or personal opinions (Mortensen & Walker, 2002). Sites such as depend much on trust, and without the perceived trust it would probably not get so many users. 

Here is an example of a review from a satisfied customer that gives his recommendations to other travellers on

Apart from online reviews there are many people that are posting about what they have bought on different media channels, such as blogs. Some do because of the self-exhibition (Cova & Pace) while others do it because they want to be associated with for example prestige or health-consciousness (Nonnecke et al, 2004). Others might do it to be a member of a community (Horrigan et al, 2001).

Here is an example of how a blog post by fashion blogger, Negin Mirsalehi, can look like.


Many consumers feel that they get confused by all the different opinions that are out there in the social environment (Matzler et al, 2007) but all the positive point of views have the tendency to help build trust in specific organizations or/and brands (Mazhar et al, 2012). Without the influencers it would be a true challenge for organisations and brands to earn the trust. Of course brands and organizations could go the other way around and focus on being authentic, honest, transparent, moderate, reactive, and proactive.  These are all important in the online environment, but with the high pressure of many organizations and brands that are struggling with getting the mass populations attention it is vital to have something that the others don’t. And those influencers could be just your key to success.  The key is trust, and trust is key when times are tough. 

How to avoid worrying about the future

Although the future is somewhat uncertain marketers can prepare for some changes that have emerged. As the trust for the “elites” have decreased it is now important to get in contact with those influencers to increase the trust. However, choosing the right influencers for your company or brand should be thought through as it can harm your brand if you don’t choose wisely. If one cannot find the right influencers among the mass population, one can also choose to invest more on the employees, as they can act as an authentic voice for the brand. 










Allan, S. and Chudry, F. (2000), “The Internet – A fad or a fundamental for relationship marketing,” Journal of Database Marketing, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 73-86.


Casielles, R. V., Álvarez, L. S., & Martín, A. M. D. (2005). Trust as a key factor in s uccessful relationship between Consumers and Retail Service Providers, Service Industries Journal, Vol. 25, Issue 1, pp. 83–101.


Cova, B, and Pace, S (2006) Brand Community of Convenience Products: New Forms of Customer Empowerment–the case of ‘My Nutella The Community’, European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 40, Issue 9/10, pp. 1087/1105.


Eisenberger, R., Huntington, R., Hutchison, S., Sowa, D., (1986). Perceived organiza- 

tional support. J. Appl. Psychol. 71 (3), 500e507.


Fukuyama, F. (1995). Trust: Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity. NY: FreePress.


Gefen, D. (2000) "E-Commerce: The Role of Familiarity and Trust," Omega (28:6), pp. 725-737.


Grönroos, C. (1998) Marketing Services: The Case of a Missing Product. Journal Of Business And Industrial Marketing, 13(4/5), 322-338.


Horrigan, J.B., Rainie, L. and Fox, S. (2001) Online Communities: Networks that nurture long-distance relationships and local ties, Washington D.C, Pew Internet and Life Project


Lee, J., Park, D-H. and Han, I. (2011) The Different Effects of Online Consumer Reviews

on Consumers’ Purchase Intentions, Depending on Trust in Online Shopping Malls: An advertising Perspective, Internet Research, Vol.21, Issue 2, pp. 167-206.


Matzler K, Fuller J, Faullant R (2007) Customer satisfaction and loyalty to Alpine ski resorts: the moderating effect of lifestyle, spending and customers’ skiing skills. Int J Tour Res 9(6):409–421


Mazhar, F., Jam, F. A., and Anwar, F. (2012). Consumer trust in e-commerce: A study of

consumer perceptions in Pakistan. Journal of Business Management, 6(7), 2516-2528.


Mortensen, T., & Walker, J. (2002). Blogging thoughts: Personal publication as an

online research tool. In A. Morrison (Ed.), Researching ICTs in context(pp. 249-279). Oslo, Norway: InterMedia.


Nonnecke,. B., & Andrews, D. (2004). The top 5 reasons for lurking: Improving community experiences for everyone. Computers in Human Behavior, 20(2), 201-223.


O’Brien, C. (2011) The Emergence of the Social Media Empowered Customer, Irish Marketing Review, Vol. 21, Issue 1-2, pp. 32-40


Palvia, P. (2009) “The role of trust in e-commerce relational exchange: A unified model.” Information & Management. 46, 213-220


Roger C. Mayer, James H. Davis and F. David Schoorman., (1995). The Academy of Management Review Vol. 20, No. 3 (July), pp. 709-734.


Shao, G. (2009) Understanding the appeal of user-generated media: a uses and gratification perspective; Internet Research, Vol.19, No. 1, pp. 7-25.


Smith, P.R. & Zook, Z. (2011) Marketing Communications: Integrating Offline and Online with Social Media, Kogan Page, London.