As Web 2.0 and social networking technologies gain a greater foothold in our culture, I often hear LinkedIn.com founder Reid Hoffman’s quote, “Privacy is an old man’s concern,” tossed about. There is some truth to that, I suppose. Although I suspect the real issue is “trust” and not “privacy.” Trust is certainly not an “old man’s concern.”
Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers view the growing requirements of Web 2.0 for personal and private information with a wary eye. We are the children who came of age in a time that knew Vietnam, the concept of the Cold War, and Watergate firsthand. We are often skeptical and don’t easily trust the “establishment,” whether it be the government, the corporations or hidden faces behind the wall of the Internet. To us, relationships are built one-on-one and face-to-face, and privacy is something protected until the deepest stages of the relationship.
The Millennial Generation, the generation fueling the development of Web 2.0, are children of technology. They have grown up with computers and technology, and their distrusting and skeptical parents (see above) were increasingly protective of them in their formative years. This generation’s social life was controlled by their parent’s ability (or inability) to take them where they could engage others (play dates, dance classes, baseball games, etc.) They saw little-unstructured playtime in the neighborhood with their friends, and their primary means of social interaction was (and is) online. Their online relationships are real and intimate because they are an extension of their daily interaction with their friends. To this generation, privacy is not something to be concerned about; it is simply the price paid for building trust.
Although the perceptions, behaviors, interactions are somewhat different between the generations, the act of sharing information and building relationships (face-to-face or online) is tied to one single factor: Trust. Trust is what makes the relationships work. Trust is the only thing that can make or break that relationship. It does not matter if it’s a personal, friendly relationship, or one build on expectations of your company or your brand.
Companies violate our trust daily; and, we keep going back for more. Well, at least those of us who were skeptical and distrustful in the first place are returning. Our expectations were low at the outset, so we largely tolerate the violations of our trust. That’s about to change, though. The Millennial Generation has higher expectations of our companies and our brands. Violate their trust, and we are history. We will not get a second chance.
Trust is still the currency for business success. It does not matter how much private information is shared and kept by the company; it is what is done with the information to build trust that is important. As our culture continues to evolve, maintaining the trust is going to be a lot harder than earning it in the first place.
Are you prepared for that?
Image Source: Trust, by Eric Golub. Used under Creative Commons License.