Building Online Trust and Connection

Just like in real life – before people start participating in your online engagement, they’ll first look for evidence that they can trust the site and your organisation.

Recently, I facilitated an interactive workshop with exactly forty engagement practitioners who attended the 2019 IAP2 Australiasian Conference in Sydney. The workshop was titled “Designing digital engagement to build trust and connection”, and as you would imagine, we took a deeper dive into how we build, design and manage online engagement projects.

workshop participants completing icebreaker

I kicked things off with a fun icebreaker activity that got us all thinking more deeply about trust and what it means to us. I was surprised to hear how personal some of these discussions became, with many people reflecting on times when someone had broken their trust, or what they look for in someone before they start to trust them.

What I found most interesting is that we came to an agreement that, just like in real life, before people start participating in your online engagement activities, they will first look for evidence that they can trust the site or trust the organisation that is running the engagement.

Workshop participants looking at computers and discussing engagement sites

In pairs, and then in larger groups, participants got out their laptops and devices and we critically reviewed a range of current and active digital engagement projects. Our intent was to look for practical examples (or lack thereof) of how to design and present an online engagement project that builds trust, enhances connection and would reach your engagement potential.

The room was abuzz, and I heard a lot of people talking about engagement projects that provided quality information, were easy to read and provided multiple ways to get involved. However, I also heard people talking about projects that seemed secretive, used too much jargon, had no contact details and didn’t seem genuine in their quest for community involvement or participation. It was great to see the diversity in how online engagement projects are built (and managed) and that there were certain things you can do to build trust and foster transparency.

Workshop participants in discussion

In true workshop style, I then asked the groups to share their observations, insights and suggestions. As a facilitator, I always find it interesting when groups report back with similar ideas or insights – it kind of gives added strength and importance to the common observations that each group had identified. I am also very wary that the less obvious or unique insights can be as equally powerful and important, so they were all captured too.

The workshop ended, and my promise back to the participants was that I would review their priority suggestions and tips, and compile them into a handy one-page resource.

Whist I had intended it to be a simple and practical list, I was amazed at the level of thinking, detail and explanation that each group had provided.

So to honour the work of all participants, we have co-created a resource that we are happy to share and promote throughout the wider community engagement sector.

You can now download a copy of “Designing digital engagement to build trust and connection. Practitioner tips”.

Oh, and before you ask, my favourite tip is ‘Watch your language’. What will yours be?


More Content You Might Like