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Facebook is an everyday part of many people's lives. It's associated with family and friends and pictures of cute cats. So when it came to light that Facebook ran an experiment trying to manipulate the emotions of 700,000 Facebook users by varying what news they saw, the sense of betrayal was palpable and widespread.

Facebook's experiment dealt a blow to the strength of its own brand by eroding people's trust. Trust is the corner stone of a good company-customer relationship and is essential for loyalty. Erode trust and you erode your customer base. But Facebook is not the only company with a trust problem.

The 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer - a multi-country tracker of levels of trust - reported that 58% trust businesses, meaning over 4 in 10 people around the world do not trust businesses. While stable in many countries, trust in business is declining in some areas. That's actually a pretty sad state of affairs. But why is this?

It is because people feel companies are not listening to and communicating transparently with them. It's no wonder customers mistrust them and their motives.

In the Trust study, Edelman identified 16 attributes that build trust, and three of the most important were:

  1. Listens to consumer needs and feedback
  2. Has transparent and open business practices
  3. Communicates frequently and honestly on the state of its business

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These attributes show that cultivating a community requires companies and governments to embrace transparency. But while these were all rated as important, they were also aspects where the public gave both business and government dismal marks on their performance. And it is precisely these three lessons that Facebook needs to learn.

The public outrage over Facebook's experiment is a reminder that companies today need to be more transparent with customers. But not only that: companies need to listen and be open in dialogue. Companies should build relationships with customers, and - with permission - get their feedback on ideas and share how their input shaped business decisions.

In a time when people are empowered with more information and choices, both business and government need to do a better job of listening to citizens and customers. Only through transparent and frequent communication can companies like Facebook regain the trust of customers and continue to enhance their brands.

If you'd like to learn more about engaging your customers, download our whitepaper, Value of Insight Communities featuring stories from Banana Republic, NASCAR, VEVO and Dean Clinic. And for more on the importance of trust and transparency, download our ebook, The Six Commandments for Surviving the Customer Revolution.

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