“Trust is the most important currency in the business world.” Deirdre Campbell of the Edelman Trust Barometer.

One month after the announcement of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook shares and “likes” dropped by almost 20%.

Direct and immediate consequence: a loss of traffic, a damaged reputation, and heavy investments in a hurry: 20,000 additional employees for cybersecurity and content moderation.

Scams against tourists on private rental platforms are making the front page of newspapers and TV programs, and undermine brands for a long time, while encouraging the emergence of new competing platforms, riding on this notion of trust: some new platforms offer to rent only to your first circle of friends or family, or minority groups (eg: women only), and others accept exclusively verified and approved accommodations on their website, etc.

At the beginning of 2019, Apple went for 4 new ecosystems, with a lot of reassuring messages : “Apple doesn’t collect your data”; “Apple doesn’t know what you’re watching, what you’re playing, or what you’re buying.”

Among consulting firms, trust is increasingly emerging as a highly strategic topic :

  • McKinsey, “The power of trust is the most powerful force behind the success of any business, but it can be broken in an instant.”
  • BCG “Mutual trust, as much as mutual interest, binds business ecosystems together.”

If trust is important for any business, it is even more crucial & critical for platforms.


  • Stakeholders in online environments are often anonymous to each other, and sometimes disassociated from their offline identities, e.g. aliases.
  • Physical interactions that traditionally occur in offline environments are often impossible in an online environment; for example: one can interact with one’s butcher and thus build trust, which is much more complicated online.
  • Online platforms can collect and use a large amount of data about participants and their activities. For example: well, all of them!

But when something is as complex as a platform or an ecosystem, how can you build trust?

Certainly not by improvising. You have to anticipate the issue from the design of the platform, in a methodical way, to prevent any damage from the start, rather than trying to recover afterwards.

Analyzing how offline ecosystems build a structure that creates trust for their stakeholders, a proven model emerges: States and the separation of powers.

Indeed, separation of powers in modern States (which are themselves ecosystems) provides the foundation for trust.

By combining this analysis with an understanding of the challenges and constraints of digital platforms and ecosystems, we obtain the Trust Framework for Platforms; this framework is a key component of the Platform Innovation Kit that encompasses a series of highly specialised platform canvases:

This framework helps to structure trust from the design phase, and to anticipate the centralization or decentralization of all the mechanisms and contracts that will need to be set up.

In any case, rest assured that a “charter of good conduct” and other ethics commitments from your stakeholders will not be enough!

And with Blockchain, we could also see an evolution of trust management towards decentralized ecosystems:

Confidence arrives on foot, but leaves in a Lamborghini.

However, it remains difficult as a company to ask the right questions, or at least to get the right answers, because we tend to look at our own interest first, as well as the boundaries we want to impose, and the risks we want to take or not.

In this case, I think experience is the best way to understand the subject: we all have experiences, good or bad ones, as consumers; it is easy to relate to them to understand how trust can be volatile, and how it depends on elements that are sometimes quite different from those we consider when we are on the company’s side.

Example 1 :

I bought a reconditioned Dyson vacuum cleaner on Backmarket, which broke down only a few months later.

Backmarket’s standpoint : Dyson is responsible for the Customer Service.

Customer’s standpoint (me) : Backmarket is responsible because I paid them, and by accepting Dyson on their marketplace, they implicitly guarantee a certain quality of serviceAnd so I don’t care about legal liability. From my point of view as a consumer, the responsibility to solve my problem lies with Backmarket. So I went to their website to report the problem, and I got this reassuring message:

I opened a 3-way chat and followed up on my conversation with Dyson. Dyson’s response did not satisfy me, so Backmarket called them back as promised:

Result: vacuum cleaner picked up by Dyson, repaired and sent back. Problem solved. My confidence in Backmarket skyrocketed.

Example 2:

I bought a small Pier Import side table on the La Redoute marketplace. When I opened the box upon delivery, the table was cracked.

La Redoute’s standpoint : Pier Import is responsible for the Customer Service
Customer’s standpoint (me) : same as above for Backmarket, and for the same reasons.

Same reaction again on my part: I visit La Redoute website to report the problem; and I find these instructions telling me that I have to contact Pier Import… Explaining that I have to click on a button… Which is available in a tab …. And that I will have to fill in a form… And I have to do all this via La Redoute’s messaging system (…..hum…..)

Can it get any more complicated? This is a bad start. So I go back to the interface to contact Pier Import:

Final response from Pier Import after :

– filling in the form

– exchanging several messages (and therefore waiting several days)

– sending pictures

– having them refuse to take back the broken table

– and spending a lot of time negotiating because they refused to reimburse me for the initial shipping costs that I had paid for nothing:

Note that this silly answer from Pier Import comes right under a big logo “La Redoute”. How am I going to feel ? Trust is not always completely rational. It is a feeling.

The result: an unacceptable answer as far as I was concerned, since it was unfair not to reimburse me for the shipping costs on the grounds that I could fix the table (!!), a lot of wasted time, a lot of frustration. After several weeks, La Redoute finally reimbursed me the shipping costs, but the damage was done: I lost my trust in them. I won’t order anything else from La Redoute marketplace anymore (and by the way, I won’t order any Pier Import products either).

The customer’s standpoint

When you look at it from the customer’s point of view, you can see much better what could impact trust; platforms can’t hide behind legal mentions indicating that they are not responsible, because we are not only talking about legal responsibility, but also about perceived responsibility, and that changes everything.


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