With a wealth of information available online, trust has become a crucial tool that consumers use to sort and prioritise all of that information, according to the 'Trust Factor' report conducted by About.com in collaboration with Latitude. This article is copyright 2012 The Best Customer Guide.

The report found that the existence of trust drives consumer decisions, with 84% of respondents reporting they will not engage with a brand until trust has been established.

Ten essential elements were identified for developing trust with consumers, including the following:

  1. Expertise - communicates authority and real value, and distinguishes itself from other brands and content fighting for consumer's attention.
  2. Fairness - provides information and tools to help the consumer evaluate pros and cons, risks, and so on.
  3. Relevance - aimed at the consumer's needs and situation, and directly on-topic.
  4. Choice - respects and acknowledges the consumer's buying process by offering more options and solutions, and by allowing consumer to express their preferences.
  5. Relatability - understands the consumer and looks at things from his point of view, leading them as would a knowledgeable friend.
  6. Awareness - although name recognition alone doesn't guarantee trust. Consumers rely on awareness driven by personal experiences or recommendations from a friend.

"With the great volume of information at consumers' fingertips, not only is trust a valuable filter but it is also a prerequisite for consumers to even enter the purchase process," said Laura Salant, director of research for About.com.

Different platforms were identified as being better at delivering certain trust elements, and can therefore be complementary tools for brands. Respondents reported that all ten trust elements are even more important to the mobile channel than the online channel. However, 'format' was identified by 71% of respondents as being more important for mobile, with 'accuracy' and 'expertise' also ranking highly.

In social media, consumers are ambivalent about the value of certain commonly-used social actions such as Likes. Reviews were identified as inspiring trust twice as much as general Likes, though seeing a Like or recommendation from a friend increased the trust value of that action.

Video works best to enhance trust when it is combined with other types of content, and 56% of respondents agreed that video builds trust when it adds illustration or explanation attached to other types of content.

The study also found that consumers prefer to combine information from a variety of sources, with 82% reporting that they use information from brands, content, ads and social media to create custom solutions for what they need.

"In today's online world there is no such thing as one-stop shopping for information," explained Tracy Raiser, senior vice president of sales for About.com. "Marketers must proactively coordinate their efforts with other trusted sources, whether that be content, social elements or word of mouth, to make sure their campaigns are adding value to the consumer's experience."