The web may be bigger than it ever has been, it may be growing at an exponential rate, but (as far as I see it) many netizens know each other. That may be through personal relationships, regular contact through message boards or mailing lists, or just the occasional email. This is a networked community we’re part of.
Heck, I feel I “know” a lot of people, just because I’ve used something they’ve written. People may find that strange. I suppose it’s like saying I feel like I “know” George Cadbury just because I’ve eaten a lot of his chocolate bars.
But on the web it’s different. After all, I can’t speak to Mr Cadbury, he died a long time ago. And chatting to someone in the Cadbury factory may be difficult as well – who do I speak to if I want to know something about their chocolate? To the un-web-oriented mind, saying that millions of people who have never met are a community is ludicrous. But to the people in the circle (we could call it a clique, I suppose), it makes perfect sense. If I wanted to speak to Shaun Inman, he’s just an email away.
Credibility, for me at least, is built through these networked relationships. Word of mouth is pretty much all that we have on the internet. So we tend to trust what we’re told by a friend – for good or bad. That’s why a virus email that comes from a name you recognise is much more likely to get through your defences than one from a name you don’t recognise. Many netizens have only two modes when it comes to belief – complete suspicion, or complete acceptance.
What credibility does is give you that acceptance. If you are credible, you are accepted. If you are accepted, you are credible. The two go hand-in-hand, and there are many people who have become – for want of a better phrase – internet celebrities, simply because they have had good things said about them. Links to your website tend to multiply very quickly once you get a little bit known in some circles. And, because we’re in such a worldwide networked environment, those links can quickly come from all over the world, and from many different types of people and sites.
What I’m trying to say is what Robert Scoble and Shel Israel are saying in their new book. If you want to become credible and be trusted, you need to integrate yourself in the web community. That means you need to have a voice (a blog), and a way for people to easily contact you in a transparent way (comments on your blog). You need to be responsible for your words (an archive), and be honest about your mistakes (no false marketing spiel). And, above all, you need to be there regularly. A press release every three months doesn’t make you come across like a communicative person or company.
So, credibility. It’s more about who you are than what you do.