As with our needs described in Maslow’s hierarchy, our trust levels ladder up to foster an ultimate sense of being.

The fifth and final level in this analysis reflects our need to realize our maximum potential once all other lower levels needs have been satisfied. This so-called “self-actualization” motivation becomes the ulterior motive behind all our actions and our reason for living – which is, for some, the greater good.

Trust, in this case, is manifested in the confidence people exude through their accomplishments and the respectable role they play in society – from teaching literacy to poor children every day to wining a once in a lifetime Nobel Prize.  This self-confidence, in turn, came from people also trusting them to act on behalf of others, and not only of themselves.

In the digital world, self-actualization is actually the reason why sites like Wikipedia are so successful and hugely popular. How else would an encyclopedia be created with information from the users themselves?

One has to believe that (most) people editing Wikipedia pages are doing so because they feel the need to share the knowledge and have the best intentions to provide the most accurate information available to them. And when that does not happen, there are other people that believe in and trust the integrity of the medium to step in and correct the information.

Many other technology platforms also rely strictly on peer collaboration. Often, they work remotely, rarely meeting in the “real world,” to create new software programs, solve bugs and even break codes if national security is at risk.

One may also view the posting of customer reviews online as another act of self-actualization with the interest of helping others to either benefit from the same experience they’ve had or prevent others from experiencing something unpleasant.

Bloggers, in the same way, look to express views that will be useful to readers, from informational to entertainment content. In most cases, only when this loop is complete and readers come back for more, the full realization of the blogger’s work is truly fulfilled.

These apparent selfless motives and actions are what ultimately illicit trust into others to believe the information online and use it to make their own decisions. And when these actions mean something greater, it becomes better for the publisher and the viewer.

  • Read about all other trust levels starting here

‘Til next time. Tchau!



RespectThere are actually two types of esteem needs all humans have, according to Maslow’s theory – a lower one, seeking the respect of others and a higher one, seeking self-respect.

I think of the need to feel recognized and respected by others as a compliment to the social need we reviewed earlier last month. We relate to others because we also care about them needing us, trusting us.

Professional networking sites, such as LinkedIn, provide a convenient platform for people to showcase their expertise in a field, connect with peers and even seek new employment opportunities online. But it is by posting recommendations people show the respect for each others’ work ever publicly.

In turn, being accepted and valued by others can help one boost his/her own higher need for self-respect. But beyond recognition by others, self-esteem also requires inner-confidence and self-acceptance. And experience can help with that. Take blogging for example.

Generally, one has to be somewhat confident in their expertise or ability to convey their views to others to even start a blog on a particular topic (unless it is a required class assignment ☺). But as others start to follow posts, trusting the blogger with their time and respecting what they have to say, this external confidence (and even the potential for fame) can do wonders to boost the blogger’s self-esteem – motivating them to be better, more entertaining, to become even more valued.

This need for esteem is also partly why we trust the recommendations of others who have reviewed a product they purchased or tested. As we’re bombarded with so many options at our fingertips, it’s certainly comforting to scroll down to a few reviews of people that can relay, first hand, their real experiences with a product and help narrow down the choices. And they often do help.

Even without knowing reviewers personally, their self-professed expertise is usually enough reason for you to trust them. So you can rate just how helpful they were, respectfully returning the favor with your appreciation…  The saying “what goes around, comes around” comes to mind…

‘Till next time. Tchau!

Social NetworkingSocial networking online as we know today is certainly fueled by this third need.  After our physiological and safety needs are met, we long for socialization.

Maslow’s theory says we need to engage in emotion-filled relationships with family, friends, and peers to form communities we can relate to and give social context in our lives.

Belonging to social groups is then a necessity for us to feel socially accepted. So strong can be the peer pressure to belong, it can actually cause physical stress. Loneliness, for example, can lead to clinical depression, which affects not only the mind, but also the body and the life of others around.

Hence, it is no surprise that social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook and most recently Twitter, have become such huge phenomenon worldwide. As logistics can get in the way of congregating offline, it makes sense our need for social interaction would leverage the advance of digital technologies to make connecting faster, more convenient.

In fact, improving the ways we connect and communicate with each other has inspired great technological innovation over the years – from telegrams, telephones and yes, the Internet itself. Now, more than ever, we can keep in touch with friends and family no matter what time or the distance.

With little or no advertising, social networking sites rapidly gained prominence (and members) by forwarding single invitations or sharing, word of mouth, really. Circle by circle, people recommended each other, forming new and larger circles.

People trust these sites to provide a safe platform to exchange their news, pics, etc. with people they “friended” in this virtual, rather than physical, space. Trust is then also a factor when choosing whom you accept in your network, from friends to brands. Just like in High School, you see who gathers with whom and those you know can also make an impression on you.

I have to admit, my first social network profile was actually created by my sister on Orkut (Goggle’s online group that caught on internationally more so than in the U.S.). And even today, my recent Facebook page is less than a “happening” place. Nevertheless, it was almost a disgrace not to be online in this space. As a marketing professional and as a human being, even more than my need for social interaction, it was peer pressure that got me to join in.

It’s about time! Most of my friends said. The truth is – engaging in this medium is now somewhat inevitable. And it won’t be going away anytime soon. It will just continue to evolve. From telephone to the Internet (and back to the iPhone now with Facebook’s app), people will always seek new ways to meet their need to connect with others. And they will trust each others’ recommendation on a place to meet, whether it’s a coffee shop or a site.

Funny enough, I still prefer to keep up with friends and family the old-fashioned way whenever I can. However, sometimes, the ever presence of a webpage or the unobtrusiveness of email can be a very convenient way to drop a note or an invitation to connect, in person. It all comes back full circle, doesn’t it?

•    Read other posts on the levels of trust as they correspond to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

‘Till next time. Tchau!

Online SafetyYou can’t turn on the news without hearing a headline that sends chills down your spine – “a killer may be living in your fridge… find out how to protect your family at 11.” Sure it’s sensationalism. For all I know, they are talking about eggs. But it strikes a cord because it echoes another deep motivational need. Safety.

According to Maslow’s theory, once we’re living (because our physiological needs are relatively fulfilled), we become increasingly interested in protecting that life, finding safe circumstances, stability.

As children, we look to adults to keep us safe and teach the way to safety. We learn to look at both sides before crossing the street. We know not to talk to strangers. As we grow older, we also tend to develop a need for structure, a sense of justice and some limits. We turn to peers to protect us and even the government. We feel more comfortable in places where we feel secure, like a well ordered home or a judicial system.

Not meeting these safety needs, if not endangering life itself, can compromise our performance and our relationships. When we feel threaten, emotionally or physically, we are less likely to trust anyone, and specially the wrongdoer. Hence why we reprimand bullies in school and even in the workplace. Courts created restraining orders. We monitor registered sex offenders. They are not to be trusted. They’re dangerous.

The need of safety and trust are also very much interconnected online. It is, in fact, a dominant factor in trusting sites and content providers. I definitely know people that still won’t bank online because they don’t feel it’s safe. While there are others who have come to trust the little “lock” symbol as a certificate that their online transaction is secure.

Just like everything else on the Internet, safety has also fueled an industry – a multi-billion anti-virus and security software industry. People will pay to protect their computers as they will to protect themselves, and specially their identity. From email scams to viruses, the end goal of online threats like phishing, spyware, and hackers is identity theft.

A study by Gartner, a security company that surveyed 5,000 U.S. adult Internet users estimated that…

  • 57 million adults have experienced a phishing attack (fraudulent messages or viruses that get you to give out information)
  • 1.78 million adults could have fallen victim to the scams
  • The cost of phishing… 1.2 billion dollars!

Such is the risk (and the expense) that the government has stepped in to protect its virtual citizens. At OnGuard Online, visitors find a safety net to learn to defend themselves from online fraud, threats to their computers and personal information. And much like in the real world, we now report hackers to authorities, use parental controls and spam lists to admonish unsafe online practices.

The fact that we can’t just trust every site or open any email in our inbox has become as common sense as not trusting everyone we meet with the keys to our home. Weeding out the trustworthy sites from the bad, weighing the risks of giving a company our information for the convenience it offers is part gut feeling and part reputation. It boils down to trust.

  • Read other posts on the levels of trust as they correspond to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

‘Till next time. Tchau!

According to Maslow, physiological needs grant the required conditions for human survival. If we can’t breathe, without food and water, deprived of sleep, sex or shelter we’ll either die or barely function in a less than fulfilling existence.

child trustThen it makes sense why we naturally come to trust those that provide us with the basics of life, starting with life itself – our parents for one (or two). Growing up, or at birth at least, we’ll take everything they give us without much questioning. We trust they know best. In fact, we depend on it.

I also have never seen a homeless refuse a bag of food given by a stranger. Somehow he/she trusts the generous gesture enough to suspect the food may be bad or even poisoned. The reality is that if one is really really hungry, young or old, they’ll probably eat whatever from whomever. It’s necessity over risk.

With doctors too. We trust them to use their knowledge to heal, to save our lives or of a loved one. We’ll answer their questions and follow their advice (for the most part) even if we don’t like it. It’s for our own good, we know.

Offline life, again, not so different online. While I don’t believe the Internet is our sole resource for fulfilling physiological needs, I can understand why people are instinctively more attracted to ads and sites promoting satisfaction of certain unsatisfied basic needs. Scams around easy (but false) financial stability. Low-rate mortgage loans a click away. Sleep-aid gadgets and gimmicks. Even medical advice on WebMD (because we trust they are actually doctors, right?). I also don’t think I need to say much more for you to complete this thought and name the one industry that rules the online world on a very intimate physiological need.

The point is: when motivation is this primitive and can be of such strength, trust is usually intrinsic but also makes us much more vulnerable. The deeper the need, the more one is willing to risk, even other levels of trust… which we’ll be discussing soon…

‘Till next time. Tchau!

Trust Levels

September 25, 2009

As far as how someone or a brand can cultivate trust, I started to think about different types of trust and when it can become a key decision shortcut for browsing online.Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

So I thought of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. As a marketer, we often look to basic human-level motivations of action to understand consumer behavior and ultimately project purchase intent. Again a little creepy, I know. But it’s true. Even if we consider ourselves beings guided by free will, several studies have identified predictable patterns of behavior based on fundamental human needs that, more often than not, are common among all of us.

So, in trying to understand the underlining motivations that drive our behaviors online, I wanted to see how much of a correlation there is with this original theory – are there different levels of trust as we fulfill different levels of the needs pyramid? Can trust be more or less important in one level than another?

Not sure this will work just yet, but will give it a try. And I could certainly use your help to verify my assumptions based on your thoughts and experiences along the way.

We’ll start by exploring one level at the time… bottom up… so stay tuned…

‘Till next time. Tchau!