E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

From the blog

Trusting People in This Social Age Is a Tough Job!

Gran Canaria - Ayacata

As a result of the article I put together over here in this blog a little while ago under the title ’The Home You Never Left’, and after a bit of a conversation going on in Twitter on the same topic, Anke Holst put together this rather helpful and very insightful piece under the rather suggestive heading of ‘Building Circles of Trust’, in which she makes a pretty convincing case as to why all of these social networking tools are so powerful in helping self-empower knowledge Web workers to nurture and cultivate their own relationships (both online and offline) by building what she calls circles of trust.

I, too, used to think that very same way, and still do, to a certain degree, but recent work experiences have convinced me that, when talking about trust, words, perhaps, are no longer enough. They have never been enough. It’s actions the ones that matter the most, specially, when people can no longer stick to their word, whether online or offline, and you end up having to rely on their real behaviours and get ready for the disappointment, because, despite all of the kool-aid and all of those cool mantras about how social tools help people trust each other by getting to know them a little bit better, it’s actually their own actions the ones that’d mark the tipping point on whether you could trust that individual or not. And time and time again it’s those very same actions the ones that confirm that who you thought you could trust, initially, based on those offline / online interactions, you find out you just can’t. And you tried very hard, but, nevertheless, the disappointment settles in. I am pretty sure plenty of you know, exactly, what I am referring to as I write these words … 

Anke starts building up her blog post with a rather clear idea, which she describes on the following quote:

When I taught people how to be on social media, back before it was all marketing, it was very much about building circles of trust. It was just like building friendships as opposed to giving fake attention, just to sell or influence’

 
If she were to have written that sentence, say, 5 or 10 years ago, I would have believed in it wholeheartedly to the point where I could justify the need to use social tools in this day and age as an opportunity to do just that: building friendships. Alas, fast forward to 2016 and for the vast majority of cases and interactions, that’s no longer the case. Every single individual wanting to make use of social tools has got an agenda, a different (most of the times very well hidden away) agenda, than whatever you thought they were portraying online initially. So instead of using social tools today to build friendships, I am afraid we are inclining more towards the giving AND taking of fake attention, just to sell, market or influence one self into doing something they very well know it’s not going to be in their ultimate benefit as a whole. Just a one way road, if I may add. But, either way, they would still carry on with it. After all, it’s in their own interest, not yours. 
 
But this is about relationships. Relationships are built on human interactions, on imperfections, not PR, on care, not follow-backs.’
Yes, indeed, this is all about relationships! And relationships built on human interACTIONS, which is where we get to experience vast majority of failures in this regard from how people behave online and how they totally transform themselves when interacting, or working together, offline, turning out to be completely different people than those you thought you knew, somewhat, rather well from over the years. Sadly, those interACTIONS are the ones that confirm, once again, you have been framed into believing you were a true friendship / relationship vs. just another individual waiting to be poached upon getting away with it. Once more. It hurts. A lot!
 
I know I may be sounding a bit too radical and negative in that description of how we eventually bastardised the entire notion of what social networks are all about and how to best make smarter use of them, and instead we decided to just focus on the phoney digital marketing techniques we all knew and learned to live without in the offline world, as if we were just bringing with us our bad habits and misbehaviours from the offline world into the online one. And that’s fine. That’s us, after all. Well, that’s not my intention, by far, in fact, following the discourse from Anke in her blog post, I think she is on to something with this particular quote where I feel she is clearly indicating the way forward to what we used to have in the past, say, 10 years ago, when social tools were emerging in the corporate world and people were genuinely trying to figure out what the fuss was all about and truly engage accordingly: 
 
My understanding of building a personal social media presence for us who don’t already have an audience, and using it well, is that we all, wherever we are, build a close circle of trust.
I couldn’t have agreed more with her vision and mantra as to how we could just go back to basics in terms of challenging and questioning the validity of our current social interactions and how much do they differ from, say, 10 years ago. Remember, for instance, when you were using Twitter back then? Ok, perhaps 5 years ago would work, too! Did your use of Twitter, for instance, change much from back then (or Facebook, LinkedIn, for that matter)? I bet it has and perhaps it’s turned itself into something you may not enjoy anymore, but, you know, since you have to be there, because everyone else is and you certainly don’t want to be either left out or lag behind, you are just thinking about carrying on as is, hoping one day will click again and re-engage yourself into the über-awesomeness it once was! Best of luck with that! I suppose those days are now long gone!
 
But, fear not, there is hope, of course! Remember, I’m still an outrageous, heretic optimist, so, as such we can’t just give up like that! That’s why my favourite paragraph from Anke’s great blog entry is this other one that pretty much sums it all up on the kind of challenges AND opportunities that lie ahead, right in front of us, for us to act upon them accordingly…
 
If the real humanity of people is out there, if people truly appreciate each other, see more of each other, and as a result, care more for each other’s feelings, and don’t just use new media to do old-school exploitation, it can all be so much more useful, peaceful, harmonious for all of us.
 
Amen to those words, indeed! 5 or 10 years ago I would have signed up for that vision right away as an opportunity to showcase the true potential of emerging social technologies and, fast forward to 2016, I still do today, except for a couple of nuances, if I may add. Yes, I still strongly believe that emerging social technologies are incredibly powerful to help knowledge Web workers foster, build and nurture their own social capital skills to improve their trust levels wth their peers, their customers and business partners, and, why not?, their own competitors (Coopetition anyone?). We do business with people, because we trust them, and vice versa, we don’t do business with people, because we don’t trust them, or we no longer do. It’s that simple. It’s who are as human beings. Trust is the foundational trait that makes it all worth it, but in this case, for me, the additional nuance is that trust cannot longer be manifested via words alone, but actions as well. Gran Canaria - Artenara
 
Why am I saying all of this in this rather cryptic blog post? – you may be wondering, right? Ah-ha, you noticed it, eh? 😀 
 
Well, there is, indeed, a reason why I’m saying all of this here and it’s perhaps my biggest lesson learned as a freelancer coming close to my third year anniversary as an independent. And since I mentioned in a previous article I’d be sharing my own experiences about what freelancing was all about, I guess it’s a good starting point to share with you all what, to me, has been the hardest and toughest lesson learned as an independent and which I’m still trying to come to terms with, as it’s happening more often than not and I still haven’t been able to figure out how to address it nor fix it: you just can’t trust people through your mutual online social interactions despite years gone by! 

WOW! I know, I know, very harsh words I have just written above, but allow me to share some context in here, please, if I may. I have been involved with social technologies since early 2000 and throughout all of that time I have been able, like I’m pretty sure most of you folks out there!, to build and nurture some pretty amazing relationships / friendships over the years that have made all of these online interactions via social networks a real treat. Totally worth the effort, the energy and the time invested. However, ever since I went independent and became an independent freelancer around Social Business & Digital Transformation nearly 3 years ago, I’ve had, at least, 4 different rather nasty and disappointing work related experiences where people who I thought I could trust and rely on, based on our social interactions from over the years, both offline and online, have let me down big time to the point where I’m still in recovery mode trying to figure out whether I could trust them back again or not. Considering, even, whether that’s even worth the effort altogether. 
 
Yes, I know, we have all gone through similar experiences in our work lives, I am certain of that! (Wish I weren’t!), and I would say we’ll be seeing plenty more of that. Why people keep on behaving in such malicious ways towards others when everyone is just trying their best to make it through and succeed (whatever that may well mean for each and everyone of them), is something that I just won’t be able to comprehend in a long while, specially, when they misbehave and abuse, big time, your own good will, that good will from those who truly believe that we are living in a different world: one where are all are more open, collaborative, caring and overall more trustworthy with one another thanks to that enabling factor from emerging social technologies, as that’s exactly what we are trying to advocate for in terms of things that need to change at work, as much as in our personal lives. Yes, I know, I may well be a bit too naïve in this regard, yet, we keep getting betrayed left and right because of that good will of wanting to have a better (business) world with us not being able to do much about it other than try to learn better for next time around. The scars keep building up in one’s mind. Will they ever heal properly?
 
It’s tough. I mean, it’s really tough to trust people in this Social Age, unless you try to associate their online fancy talk with their actions, in which case you are bound to find out you couldn’t trust them in the first place. And that’s, exactly, what I’m trying really hard myself to do after these different work related experiences from people I thought I could trust, but I eventually found out I just shouldn’t have. I don’t know whether all of this happens more often with freelancers, but I can assure you that in the 17 years I worked at my former employer I never experienced such distrustful behaviours from fellow peers and it makes me wonder that perhaps the big corporate world is not the only one that’s totally broken and needs some serious fixing. Perhaps it’s us, humans, the ones who need fixing in terms of how we need to substantiate our words with our actions. The latter should speak more often for us than our very own words, alas the current Social Web focuses much more on that fancy talk I mentioned above rather than in our deeds on how we treat other people, and perhaps that is the main problem the Social Web has got nowadays… 
 
Trusting people in this social age is a tough job, indeed, perhaps the toughest of them all! We all know how many years of truly hard work, effort and energy it takes to build trust with people you want to respect, treasure and care for, but we all know as well how little time, i.e. a split second, it takes to destroy for good those trustworthy relationships when people say one thing and they do something else completely different abusing your good will of wanting to do things different, because you truly believe that social networks can, and will!, change the world as we know it! Only thing we can do then? Move on, work harder and learn that if people would want to earn your trust, their fancy talk will no longer do. Actions, now more than ever, do matter ever so much more. Now and forever!
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