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How Companies Can Leverage Influence to Create Trust

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In recent times we've seen things crack the foundations of trust -- both online and in real life.

Facebook's incredible morphing privacy policies (and experiments), unimaginable data breaches, revelations that Snapchat snaps don't really disappear, and of course Assange, Snowden and the NSA. The list could go on.

Despite these betrayals, our trust on the Internet, along with the ranks of online influencers, seems like it is continuing to swell. That coupled with the push we are seeing in the workforce – more millennials entering it and having their own definition of trust and influence – is making this an interesting time.

Related: Facebook: When Trust Is Exploited

Positioned squarely in the middle of the divide between employers and employees (and consumers and brands) is a new rank of what Benjamin Edelman, writing in the Harvard Business Review, terms "intermediaries': the platforms consumers and, in this case, employers and prospects, rely on for basic information. For instance, consumers turn to GrubHub for food choices, delivery and reviews. Companies and people look at job-community website Glassdoor for information pertaining to employers. We have come to a position of guarded trust in these platforms. But much could change.

This shift to a new understanding of who, or what, is trustworthy has huge implications for employers, especially as Boomers' retirement rates pick up, creating job opportunities for Gen Y and millennials

So how do employers build trust and create influence, when so many other sites and services are competing for the same space?

Trust in online influencers and brands is really nothing new. Since Trout & Ries wrote about branding and positioning many decades ago (well before Mad Men taught us about the risks of believing in brand constructs developed by people three sheets to the wind) we've known, instinctively, when we're being played. What changed our "Spidey sense?" Rewards. It turns out many of us are willing to give up a stunning amount of personal information for let's say a 15 percent discount or some free samples. Employer brands can't give out lots of samples, really, so how do they play?

Related: 4 Ways to Build Trust Quickly

Employer brands skip the cursory rewards and turn to influence. By creating gravity around their brands with content, employee advocacy and social buzz, they come to occupy a place in the minds of prospects and even passive candidates.

Doesn't your heart beat a bit faster when you're contacted by a recruiter for Google? Google has massive influence, even if it does not have absolute trust. And there, my friends, is the boundary between influence and trust. Trust must be earned, influence can be bought.

The task for employer brands, then, is to first create influence, then guard it well and expand it until it becomes trust. Trust doesn't necessarily trump influence, but they are very closely linked.

Internally, companies must build corporate cultures of storytellers. Employees are your best, most loyal, most informed brand ambassadors. Their experience of working in your company is encoded in stories they tell to other employees, to prospects and the world via social networks. Support them as you would any other aspect of tour corporate culture to reap the rewards of influence and build networks of trust.

Related: Gaining Customers' Trust Can Be Your Checkmate

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