The dynamics of community and culture seem to be the same, wherever you may find yourself.
For example, I work in campus ministry. The university community is unique and as a campus missionary of sorts, I must know the culture. I must learn its language, find its gathering places, and know its nuances. I must submerge myself into the community if I want to effectively develop relationships with college students, earn their trust, and ultimately earn the right to share the gospel with them.
Essentially, I must become “one of them.”
(And, may I say, it’s a rough job. Somebody has to go to all those football games!)
And this is the same for missionary work in other cultures. This is also true for the effectiveness of local church congregations. I believe the local church body needs to embrace and become a contributing member of its local community in order to reach that community.
The same is true, according to authors Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, for the online community. If you want to become a Trust Agent, you must earn the trust of those you are looking to connect with online.
Brogan and Smith offer this formula to illustrate the elements of trust and how you can increase the level of trust others have in you:
(C x R x I)/S = T
C is credibility.
R is reliability.
I is intimacy.
S is self-orientation.
T is trust.
And so, if you hope to increase your trustworthiness online, you must increase your credibility, reliability, and depth of intimacy while, at the same time, being less self-centered and self-focused. This formula is applicable in the non-virtual world as well. It seems so basic, but can be very challenging.
Thankfully, the authors also give us some very practical suggestions to accomplishing this daunting task of diving into our communities, either online or not, and earning the trust necessary to accomplish our goals.
Listen. Some wise mama somewhere said “God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason!” James said it a little more eloquently when he said, “Be quick to listen and slow to speak.” (James 1:19) If you want to earn the trust of those around you, listen to them; their stories, their frustrations, their dreams. Keep your mouth shut for awhile.
Introduce yourself. Don’t just show up and pimp yourself or your product. Introduce yourself and let everybody know that you are present and that you are friendly.
Be present. Again, don’t just show up and yell loudly. Be consistently present. Allow people to get to know you as somebody who shows up. Contribute to the conversations that are already taking place and slowly introduce new ideas into the mix.
Earn your place. It takes time and effort to earn your place within the community and culture you wish to engage. But, once this happens, you stand to make the impact you hope to have.
When it is boiled down, the process of becoming “one of us” in the community you wish to engage is paramount to earning their trust. Your motives have to be pure and honorable, as people can smell a fake from 100 yards. You have to take your time and be intentional. You have to offer value to the group, while validating the ideas and thoughts of others. You have to be human and allow others to do the same.
As you do this, you will find your voice within the community, and thus, your influence, will increase proportionally to the level of your trustworthiness within the tribe.
And so, take off your mask and shed your ulterior motives and engage your community as one of them.
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Brandon Smith is the Campus Minister at the Christian Campus House, serving Northwest Missouri State University. He also fancies himself something of a writer, publishing articles every so often and working on a new book. He blogs at www.mynameisbrandon.com