Let's be honest – the web isn't always the easiest place to create trusted relationships. After all, the personal cues that we might use when meeting someone face to face don't apply. You never know who may be behind the keyboard in any online conversation and there are plenty of unscrupulous characters ready to take your money, reputation or time in thousands of ways. This, unfortunately, is the online world we live in … and it is also the world that you must consider when trying to build relationships with your customers and promote your small business online.

Trust online matters. If you can build it right, then you can drive people to your business either online or in the real world. To build it amongst the many barriers online, there are some basic principles like trying to create a useful and engaging experience online and making sure that it WORKS (ie – a site that doesn't crash all the time). That alone, however, won't be enough. This post is meant to offer some ideas for what more you need to do beyond the basics:

  1. Talk like a real person. Nothing gives the impression that you're faceless more than using completely neutral third person language across your site. Instead of using the same old marketing mumbo jumbo to describe your business, how about giving people a bit of the story behind your company? Why was it started and how did you build it? When you can tell a story in your own voice, it creates a foundation for believability in everything else you do online.
  2. Share your plans. If you think about your relationships in real life, when people share more about what they are thinking and planning to do, you feel more involved with them. Giving the inside story is a great way to build trust. There are several ways this could translate online. One may be to offer some sort of exclusive experience and content through a loyalty program or Fan page on a site like Facebook. Another could be to choose a set of customers to be part of an inside circle of advisors that you ask for feedback and inspiration. The more you can share online, the more people you can get invested in your business.
  3. Admit your failures. One of the things you can learn from Domino's recent campaign about their Pizza is the power of admitting when you have failed. No one is perfect and sometimes it is the fallability in each of us and our businesses that can go the farthest to build trust.
  4. Respond directly. When it comes to social media and the world of the web, there are few things as powerful as finding a way to directly engage with your customers online. This could mean using a tool like Twitter to respond directly to customer feedback, or simply posting comments on blog posts that mention your business or the category your business is in.
  5. Use multimedia. As the cliche goes, a picture is certainly worth more than words, and online this is particularly true. If you can find a way to include more images of your retail location, or a photo gallery of your employees working together, or video of your products – each of these can go a long way to sharing the inside story behind your business and establishing a basis for trust.
  6. Encourage advocates. Sometimes the best way to build trust in your business is to have lots of people online saying good things about you. This could involve having more people review your business online, or finding people who are particularly vocal about the industry you are in and introducing them to your business. Whether it is an individual rating or a influential content creator – every voice that you can get supporting your business online will be another reason for people to trust you., so you’ve decided to start using the Internet to promote your business more actively and most people you talk to who know about the web tell you the same thing … you need to redesign your website. The problem for many small businesses is that getting to the point when you actually have the budget or manage to get the right help to do it may take some time.

NOTE: This post is part of Small Business Friday (SBF) – a weekly feature to share marketing ideas for small businesses and was originally published on the Amex Open Forum site.