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Transitive Trust

Many prospects these days will refuse an unsolicited call or email, even with a perfectly tailored and customer-centric pitch. This is where the social Web can potentially help through something I call transitive trust. Consider this example of transitive trust: In trying to reach Graham, I discover that we both know Kelly. Because Kelly trusts me, and Graham trusts Kelly, Graham is more likely to "transitively" trust me if Kelly provides a warm introduction or I at least mention Kelly when reaching out to Graham. Not actually knowing me himself, Graham doesn't trust me as much as he trusts Kelly, but as someone trying to hire Graham, sell him something, or whatever the goal might be, I don't need him to trust me just yet. All I need is to get my foot in the door, and my product, service, or personality hopefully can do the rest. I just need a chance to be heard.

Transitive trust is not a new concept; in fact, it is how human beings have been making important decisions since the dawn of civilization. The challenge in the past was about discovery. I might have had to ask a lot of people before I found someone who knew Graham well enough to provide an introduction. Social networking sites bring transparency and efficiency to discovering mutual ties.

With a quick search on Facebook, I can immediately see all the friends Graham and I have in common and then use my best judgment to decide who to ask for an introduction—which will be a function of both how well I know the person and how well I think Graham knows the person (see Figure 2.4).

Figure 2.4

Figure 2.4 Facebook profiles include a list of mutual friends you have with the person.

On LinkedIn, the social network mapping is even more robust. I can see the path of people linking me to Graham, up to three degrees away (see Figure 2.5). Even if Graham and I have no direct connections in common, I could still play on transitive trust to improve my chances of reaching him, albeit via a few more hops.

Figure 2.5

Figure 2.5 LinkedIn takes the transitive trust map of network connections out as far as three degrees and has built-in workflow for requesting introductions through mutual friends.

Transitive trust makes sense intuitively. Going through someone we know reduces risk on a rational level and feels more comfortable on an emotional one. For example, the Stanford University Alumni Association has found that, on average, alumni are more than four times as likely to donate when they are told that someone they know and like has also donated. Because of this remarkable return, Stanford has gone to great lengths to figure out how alumni are connected with one another. Transitive trust is also why direct employee referrals so often result in job candidate hires.

In Chapter 4, "Sales in the Facebook Era," we explore in depth how transitive trust is applied to a sales cycle. Chapter 6 describes how transitive trust can also be abstracted beyond people introductions to the marketing of products and services, also known as word-of-mouth.

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