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How to Build Credibility on the Web

How to Build Credibility on the Web

How to Build Credibility on the Web

    There are literally millions of voices on the Internet. Blogs, Social networks, micromessaging services like Twitter, instant messaging services, email, wikis, forums, and dozens of technologies I haven’t even heard of – and dozens more to come – give us all an unprecedented ability to be heard.

    But with all those voices clamoring for attention, how do you stand out from the crowd? More importantly, once you get someone’s attention, how can you keep it? How can you show that it is your voice, out of the jabbering multitude, that’s worth listening to?

    In short, how do you appear credible online? A panel at BlogWorld Expo set out to explore the issue of credibility online, and the panelists – Daniel Gray, Scott Monty, Michelle Naranjo, Joe Neuberger, and Muhammad Saleem – had some mighty interesting things to say. While their comments were directed solely at blogging, the principles they enumerated can apply more broadly to the issue of credibility on the Internet in general.

    The same accessibility that makes the Internet such a great medium makes credibility hard to establish. Where it used to be that anyone who wanted to do business with you needed at least enough capital to establish an office, print stationery, and put a listing in the Yellow Pages, nowadays you can set up shop on the Internet for free – there’s almost no barrier to entry, or to deception. In 20 minutes I could set myself up as, say, a legal consultant, an aerospace technologist, or an environmental lobbyist – regardless of whether I was actually working as any of those things or not.

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    In time, all but the most skilled con artists will have a hard time keeping up the illusion that they are competent experts, but how do you get people’s attention long enough to prove that you are what you claim to be? Here are a few ideas, some abstracted from the discussion at BlogWorld, and some from my own experience and study.

    1. Hold to the highest standards of honesty and integrity.

    The trouble with lying is that it takes a lot of work to maintain consistency. This goes well beyond the old maxim about needing to remember which lies you told to whom; deceptions, even small ones, need to be internally consistent or, sooner or later, your story starts to unravel.

    The truth, on the other hand, is internally consistent by definition – it really did happen that way! When you’re being honest, it shows – you’re spending your energy on connecting warmly with your audience, rather than on keeping up false appearances.

    2. Work your profile.

    People are credible; faceless voices are not. Make sure you fill out profiles on all the services you use (an “About Me” page on your blog performs the same function). Put some thought into your profile – you want whoever reads it to understand not just where you live and whether you’re single, but what makes you a person worth paying attention to.

    Unless you have a pressing reason not to, it’s always a good idea to include a picture of yourself whenever possible. People connect with faces – most of us remember faces much better than we do names. Allowing people to see your face gives them a real person to relate to. There’s a reason we speak disparagingly of “faceless corporations”…

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    3. Consistency

    A large archive of consistent activity on any blog network, or service will go a long way towards easing any doubts about you. People trying to pull a “fast one” rarely put three years into blogging, or send a thousand tweets, or submit a hundred stories to Digg (this last example is false, but in an interesting way: some scammers actually do submit lots of stories to Digg before submitting their own, simply because they understand well the air of credibility a long-term investment lends them).

    Being consistent also means avoiding behaviors that contradict your core principles. While you might change the candidate you endorse on your local politics blog as new facts emerge without damaging your credibility, a more serious contradiction like running ads for pornography on your church website would be irredeemable. Make sure you keep an eye on what’s done with your content, wherever it’s posted, so that you don’t end up inadvertently associating your work with material that contradicts it.

    4. Stay above the fray.

    This doesn’t mean avoid controversy – in fact, taking strong stands that accord with your core principles will usually help your credibility. But defend your stands with tact and dignity – don’t stoop to personal attacks and mudslinging, which send a clear message that your position isn’t defensible on its own merits.

    This can be especially difficult when you face personal attacks, and if you spend any time online, you will. A good rule of thumb is to wait at least a day before responding to any harsh criticism; responding in the heat of the moment leaves you far too vulnerable to saying things you’ll regret later or that will make you look bad.

    5. Be persistent.

    If you have something to say, and you want others to hear it, don’t give up. Persistence shows more than just a strong will, it shows that what you’re saying is truly important – important enough for you to commit your efforts to it until it is heard, despite your setbacks. If you want proof, watch any Hollywood biopic or TV biography show – the stories we’re most interested in are the people who succeeded “despite terrible odds”, to the point that screenwriters and TV directors will invent conflicts if real life doesn’t prove challenging enough.

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    6. Be everywhere you need to be.

    Figure out where the people you need to reach congregate, and make sure that you’re in the same places. Don’t spam, of course – instant lost credibility, that is – but make yourself visible to the people whose attention matters most to you. That might mean joining forums, commenting on blogs, participating in social networks, submitting to social media sites, signing up for a flickr group, or whatever else it will take to get seen by your prospective audience.

    7. Build a network of trust.

    On the Internet as much as anywhere else, credibility is established as much by who you know as by what you know. Build strong relationships with other credible people in your field, whether they are producers, fans, customers, reporters, or whomever. This is the basic principle underlying Google: if lots of people trust a site (as expressed by linking to it) then Google assumes that site is a good source, and the more trustworthy the sites linking to that site are (as expressed by the number of sites linking to them), the more credible the site is considered to be.  Surround yourself with the people you trust the most.

    8. Be available.

    Nothing undermines credibility faster than someone failing to respond when needed. Make a point of responding as quickly as possible to anyone who expresses interest in what you’re saying – whether that’s by commenting on your blog, responding to your forum post, replying to your tweet, or however else they choose to contact you. Answer questions quickly and to the best of your abilities – one impressed contact can easily multiply into tens or hundreds of new followers/readers/fans/etc. as word spreads of your expertise.

    9. Feature your hits.

    This applies most to bloggers,although if you can figure out how to apply the same principle to your other online activities, all the better. As you build up an archive of really strong content, make sure that you pull it up and re-present it from time to time. Keep a list of your top 5 or 10 posts on your front page, and backlink to old posts when you write new ones. Make it as easy as possible for people to see that you’ve been creating consistently high-quality content for a long time.

    10. Participate.

    After his presentation at BlogWorld Expo, Muhammad Saleem tweeted, “You’re not living in a vacuum. It’s the ‘participatory web’. Participate.”

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    What separates spammers from credible people is that spam is a one-off affair (even if they flood a service with thousands of messages). Spam isn’t participation. Real participation is sustained and engaged, creating relationships that endure beyond any specific exchange. If you pop into a forum and dump links to your site in 20 threads, or post your stories to a social media site without ever posting anything else, you look untrustworthy: how can anyone tell you know what you’re talking about if you never display it?

    11. Be right – or wrong in interesting ways.

    Credibility is all about people relying on you to provide the information that they need, so it’s important to provide correct information. At least for the most part – being wrong in ways that provoke thought, force a reassessment of a situation, or force people to strengthen their own arguments can be just as valuable, or even more valuable, as being right.

    12. Pay attention.

    Know what’s going on in your field, and express it. Notice when changes are afoot, and show people how to deal with them.

    Pay special attention to the needs of your audience. If they are growing, make sure you grow with them. If they express dissatisfaction, fix the source of their concerns. You can be the most knowledgeable person in your field and come across as a mere newbie if you respond to the questions you think people should be asking instead of the ones they actually are asking.

    13. Act with professionalism.

    There’s plenty of room for random wackiness in every field, but be sure to balance your wackiness with the needs of your audience. Tweets that attack your competitors, flame wars on your favorite forums, email newsletters packed with typos, and all manner of personal foibles can quickly undermine your credibility – even if they’re unrelated to whatever your area of expertise is. A typo in a blog post headline shouldn’t matter – but it does. (Note: having said that, I’ve virtually guaranteed that there will be at least one typo in this post that I don’t catch when I proofread. C’est la vie!)

    14. Control your business.

    Establish your limits early on and let others decide whether they fit into your limits, not the other way around – don’t try to be all things to all people. Say “no” to favors that don’t fit your purposes, set your rates (for ads, client work, consulting, or whatever) and don’t alter them, avoid softening your positions just to appease your naysayers (that is, in the absence of an honest reappraisal of your position). Don’t alter your path in response to every changing trend or dose of criticism – stick to your guns, especially where your core principles are concerned. People whose opinions change with the tides come across as thought followers, not thought leaders – and followers aren’t credible.

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    Last Updated on January 15, 2021

    7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

    7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

    The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

    Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

    Posture

    First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

    • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
    • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
    • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
    • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

    All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

    Facial Expressions

    Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

    • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
    • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
    • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

    If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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    1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

    A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

    The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

    This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

    2. Relax Your Face

    New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

    The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

    To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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    3. Improve Your Eye Contact

    Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

    The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

    To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

    3. Smile More

    There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

    Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

    4. Hand Gestures

    Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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    It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

    5. Enhance Your Handshake

    In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

    “Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

    It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

    6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

    As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

    Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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    Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

    Final Takeaways

    Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

    If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

    More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

    Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

    Reference

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