Trust is not transitive

Andy Beard is asking his RSS subscribers… “Do you trust my advice?”   Andy asks because he’s been checking the “follow through” on his promotion of other people’s products and has been disappointed in the final figures.

The very first comment to the post went along the lines of “Yes, I trust you… but just because I trust you doesn’t mean I trust this other guy.”


keys to successAndy uses RSS to communicate with his blog readers.  The other resource uses email.

I know that I am MUCH more likely to subscribe to a site’s RSS feed than I am to sign up for an email list.  Why?  Because I know I have CONTROL over the RSS…  I simply remove it from my iGoogle and it’s gone.

Email, on the other hand, is forever.  Once I’ve subscribed to your list… how do I know you’ll honor my unsubscribe request?  (This is truly a TRUST issue.)

Case in point, I signed up for an email list and then unsubscribed.  I didn’t receive emails for a few weeks but now, suddenly, they are starting to come in again from this source.  HELLO!?!?!  I unsubscribed!!!  Why am I hearing from you again?

Why did I unsubscribe from the newsletter?  Well, because the information provided didn’t live up to the “hype”.  They broke a fragile new trust by not delivering what they promised.  As a result, I unsubscribed from the newsletter.  Surprise, surprise…. they’ve broken their promise yet again.  The best predictor of future behavior once again is past behavior.

Trust is a slippery critter.  It’s tough to earn and easy to lose. 

Just this morning, I had a “difficult” conversation via email with a client.  Had I not established a trusting relationship with her, my “advice” could have been viewed as self serving, even though it was not given with my needs in mind but rather her future.  My client wanted to take a “break” from blogging and was going to take down her web site for 6-8 months, relaunching it next year.

My reply was along the lines of “ACK!  Leave your blog up!  You’ve got a PR of 3, a decent Alexa ranking after less than 6 months of blogging!  Don’t take it down because you can’t continue to post every day!!!”

It would have been easy for her to think I simply didn’t want to lose her hosting business.   That wasn’t the case, but I knew it could appear that way.  I was relieved to read her response.  Instead of seeing it as a “sales” tactic,  this was part of her reply:

I trust what you say. You have been nothing but honest and helpful for me.


I’m the daughter of a car dealer… and sometimes I come across, well, like I grew up with a car dealer as a father.  I had to “sell” and “close” all the time.  I grew up believing that “No is simply the customer asking for more information.  I was relieved that I had built up enough trust with this client that she could see that leaving her blog up was in HER best interests, not mine.

In other words, I had earned her trust.  It’s something I don’t take lightly.   When you earn someone’s trust, you shouldn’t take it lightly either.


  1. There is a problem with your argument which I have yet to explore.

    RSS subscribers effectively by becoming a subscriber might be giving me a small amount of their attention, but they are not giving me their trust.

    If as a blogger I emphasise email subscriptions over RSS, then I am giving them a measurable option to trust me.
    Once I have broken that barrier, the chance that the trust is transitive to give an email address to another recommended resource might be substantially increased.

    There are many problems with the RSS model that might have been solved using RSS based Autoresponders, but some of those have died because of slow adoption, and feed sharing.


    In other words, trust IS transitive but there isn’t enough trust in the RSS “relationship’ to pass along!

    On the other hand, the email relationship has a higher level of trust… enough to “pass” that trust on to others.

    It appears the old “the money is in the list” can’t be replaced with “the money is in the feed.”

    VERY interesting!!!!

  3. I would have to agree with Andy’s response. Because I have so much control over an RSS feed, I sign up for them like candy, whereas I’m much more cautious with my email subscriptions.

    And, surprise surprise, of the 100 or so RSS feeds, many of them get a cursory glance, then get cleared off the reader.

    I think many bloggers who have very large RSS feeds may be deeply fooling themselves as to the truth of the situation.

    Our email list, which is in the mid-four figures, we’ve been able to build up enough trust to have 22% convert to paying customers, and many, many of them beyond that to return as repeat customers.

    I have yet to see (and happy to be proven wrong) of an RSS feed list that has a conversion rate that high- in other words, has built that much trust with that many of their readers.

    I’m not saying you can’t build trust with blog readers- of course you can. But because people sign up without having to give much trust, you have to do a lot more to build trust with them, it seems.


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