Surrogates: Because this shit is too hard

Scaling Trust with DevRel, Pt. 4

You can give this feeling to others.

Last time I talked about using meetups to increase your reach and your individual effectiveness. But even meetups still require your physical presence, which in the context of current physics, is enormously limiting. Let’s transcend the laws of physics…with content.

This is part 4 of a series.

Let’s start with trust surrogates — artifacts, things, that stand in for you. In case you haven’t guessed it, I mean…yeah, content. By itself, content is dead trees & electrons held in ineffable quantum states. To be effective, raw content requires two things. First, just like the content you provide in person, it must dispense helpful and actionable advice. It’s also your chance to go really deep into a subject, and so to transform the reader into a hero by equipping them with large amounts of knowledge and even experience (through tutorials). However, as an instrument of trust it needs one more thing.

The reader needs a human connection to form the bond of trust with. Recall the hypothesis that trust is a feature of human relationships, and not of things. That hypothesis is particularly important here. The reader might believe the article, might find it useful, but we require some way to use the article to generate trust, in a person.

One obvious first step is to prominently introduce yourself (or the author, if you didn’t write it), rather than on anonymously attributing it to your organization. Great, now we have a human face! That’s a great start — now the reader knows that there is a person to trust, and who that person is.

Second, and far less obvious, is to pay close attention to the tone. The article must feel like a conversation with the author — as though thy were right in front of you. (Hello! 👋) Address the reader, engage them directly, use active voice, and make it feel like a shared journey. Just like I’m trying to do now. Make the article, in short, feel human. This is how a trust surrogate works (and why I call it that): It should be a stand in for you. It should be initiating conversations (and hence relationships) on your behalf while you’re busy doing something else, like sleeping.

Third, make it shareable. Your article will have far more impact if the reader discovered it from a friend, rather than a search engine. Because the reader will transfer some of the trust they place in their friend on you, the author. Search engines, being machines, things, not people, have no well of trust that can be transferred onto you. So while SEO is great, and so is maximizing overall views, the most important views are the ones who come to your article from a friend or colleague, because these are the readers that you can most readily build a relationship with. (And so sharing is what you should be measuring as your primary KPI!)

(This suggests that Medium is probably where you want to be sharing your content, as an inherently social platform where referrals from trusted sources are an easy and common route of discovery.)


In the next and final episode (Part 5), we’re going to finally find ourself face to face with trust at scale.

If you’re just joining us, however, you’ll want to head back to the intro and find your way from there 🤗


Who am I? Hi! I’m @DEGoodmanWilson, and I’m the head of developer relations at Sqreen. We give your web application the ability to defend itself against attacks. You should try it out.