People trust peers, even if they don’t know them. This is the observation behind the success of online communities from TripAdvisor to reviews on Amazon or indeed any one of the many examples of online communities that are growing and flourishing. We trust these strangers-cum-peers with important decisions in our live – from which hotel to book for our annual holiday, to support on medical or financial decisions. And some trust these strangers-cum-peers so much that they even lend money to them.
We know that people trust the advice and recommendations of peers. They connect through their content, their stories and their experiences. If somebody tells us about their life then we know more about them, we can empathise with them and understand better the decisions they tell us that they make. The more we get to know people the more we can assess the level at which we trust their thoughts and their stories. We learn more information about them and this lets us evaluate their thoughts and the relevance of these to us.
And it works – we can get to know people online only through their conversations and ideas. In fact it makes it easier for us to find people like us. They no longer have to be near us or ever met us in person. The ideas alone are enough to connect us.
One example of the level at which we are able to build relationships of trust online is shown by the peer-to-peer micro-lending sites, such as Kiva or Zopa. These sites rely on individuals needing a loan finding others with money to lend. As a lender you obviously need to feel that the organisation behind the scheme has a strong background and a low default rate. But when it comes to actually lending your own money to an individual it is the relationship you can build with that person themselves that counts.
You can’t talk to them or meet them. Rather you have to rely on their stories, ideas and contributions online. You get to know them by what they tell you and what they reveal to you. You find people with whom you can empathise or understand. And through these ides and stories alone you can make a decision to lend them money.
This is, of course, a great thing. People wanting small amounts of money that can make a real difference to their lives. And because we can now connect them online this is possible on a much more peer-to-peer basis. Of course, it also shows the power of online communities and our ability to connect with people through shared ideas and discussions. Whilst I might be willing to lend money to somebody like this, I probably wouldn’t be willing to lend money to the person that I see on my way into work everyday but have never spoken to, and know nothing about.
Online communities allow us to find and connect with people through ideas. Through sharing ideas in this way we really get to know them, and really start to trust them. And that’s why online communities can be really powerful.