Industries in Depth

The next C-Suite role that every company needs: Chief Trust Officer

A visitor tries a metaverse service at a technology conference in Barcelona, Spain. Chief Trust Officers must excel in both risk & compliance, and brand & communications.

Chief Trust Officers must excel in both risk & compliance, and brand & communications. Image: Reuters/Albert Gea

Tiffany Xingyu Wang
Chief Marketing & Trust Officer, OpenWeb
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The Metaverse

  • In Web3, online brands will be rooted in their communities' trust in them.
  • The role of Chief Trust Officer will be essential to maintaining this relationship.
  • Chief Trust Officers must excel in both risk & compliance, and brand & communications.

In the most recent Axios Harris Poll measuring consumer perception of brand reputation, three of the top five names on the list of 100 were grocery stores. Social media and technology companies ranked much lower in the bottom ten.

Online toxicity, data breaches and systematic biases have damaged the operations of digital platforms in recent years, and public trust has eroded alongside. The consequences have been devastating for public safety and will be catastrophic for businesses. The people are calling for more scrutiny and responsibility.

Have you read?

None of the founders started these online communities to make them toxic. But the formula to reconcile the widening gap between the businesses’ conviction to do the right thing and spiraling public distrust seems to be forever out of reach.

Trust reconstruction

I have written industry standards and identified ethical technologies required to construct trust in the fast-changing digital society. The time is right to create the role of Chief Trust Officer and hunt for the person in charge of taking responsibility for trust. Before we investigate what the part can look like and who can step into these big shoes, let us reconstruct how the definition of trust has evolved.

When cloud computing was nascent, businesses added security, availability and reliability to trust dimensions. With the broader adoption of artificial intelligence in the digital transformation era, we see trust encompass ethics and humane use of technologies. In the future of work, diversity, equity and inclusion are becoming a new metric of trust. Over the past 20 years, we saw the rise of Chief Information Security Officer, Chief Digital Officer and Chief Equality Officer.

The wave upon us brings a new tsunami of technologies that converge into the so-called Web3 – an immersive universe centering around creators and powered by an extensive internet of things, crypto-assets for transactions, and artificial intelligence for its user-generated semantics.

Underway is a big transition from Web 2.0, the era when we put our data, content, and safety in private social platforms, to Web3, which by design and intent is built to put these invaluable assets back in the hands of creators and users. In this new era, brands rely on communities to thrive. And communities need brands’ guidance on safety protocol, respect for data and empowerment of creative diversity. With safety, privacy, and inclusion at the core of growth, a thriving community can self-express its identity through the lifeline to a brand.

In other words, trust must include digital safety, data privacy and inclusive content in its new definition for companies to succeed in Web3.

Trust ownership

So now let us ask: When was the last time your organization redefined the concept of trust? Who’s in charge of reviewing, redefining and reconstructing trust?

If you’re looking around and not seeing anyone yet, you should be concerned, but you are not alone. The Chief Trust Officer is a job that doesn’t exist in many organizations, but it is quickly becoming a real-world requisite with Web3 upon us. So how do we go about spotting the right person? Or how do you know if it could be you?

First, find the person who is well-versed in emerging and ethical technologies.

Anyone thinking of being a Chief Trust Officer needs to understand the new vehicles through which brands interact with communities in Web3. New generations of users choose communication and transaction platforms that prioritize community, creators and digital ownership. The recent meteoric rise of Discord, OpenSea and MetaMask prove it.

Not only does the Chief Trust Officer need to inform the leadership where the future lives online and why new generations live there, but the leader also has to drive a greater understanding of how to use technology to protect them.

We can dissect Web3 into technology paradigms: the rising internet of things, the metaverse powered by 3D graphics, and the semantic web, all assisted with AI in decision-making. To adapt to these technological advances, business leaders must rethink how to protect data, safeguard users and diversify content through ethical practices like differential privacy, encryption and contextual AI-enabled moderation. A potential Chief Trust Officer needs to know – and fundamentally understand – the applications of them all.

Next, listen for someone who is effectively communicating the value of trust.

A background in risk and compliance, or brand and communications, is good preparation for bringing trust-enhancing functions into a brand. Experience in working with boards of directors is a strong plus. But both sides of that coin – the risk-focused compliance officer or the revenue-focused marketer – need to amp up the other side of their approach to drive trust into every corner of their company.

Chiefs in privacy, security and compliance have long been the watchdogs in business. These leaders deeply appreciate trust-enhancing technologies, but they will need to make sure they communicate with the rest of the organization the positive change that can stem from these platforms. Chief Marketing Officers and other brand- and revenue-focused leaders, on the other hand, are already natural ambassadors of trust through product marketing, communications and community empowerment.

Leaders will have to dive far deeper into the technology than they ever thought they would need to. They will have to take the time to truly understand technology’s pitfalls and potential upsides to create a progressive trust strategy.

Last, test their resilience and see how they react.

Trust is a fragile thing in the corporate world. Earning it from customers and communities is hard, and maintaining it is even more challenging. The person responsible for trust at the highest level needs to go into the role with their eyes fully open about how many feathers they might ruffle.

A Chief Trust Officer needs to prepare to go one step further than just being the devil’s advocate. Some days the person is working with the leadership and the board to streamline trust-related efforts, uncover roadblocks, shape allyship and get resources. On other days, the person needs to be the existing brand’s true nemesis, going against everything that has made the company extensive and successful, to drive trust into the heart of the business. As a result, a resilient person who isn’t afraid to be authentic must take on the role.

The time is now

Once you’ve found someone that fulfills those three criteria, well done. But don’t wait. Once you have them, manage the reorg, create the budget, hire a team, and align the metrics suitable for the whole organization. Trust is not a nice-to-have; it’s a business imperative as we urgently transcend Web 2.0. The brands who act will be the ones we still know 10 years from now. Trust, without a shadow of a doubt, is the new digital transformation.

According to Citi, the metaverse’s total addressable market will be between $8 trillion and $13 trillion. But harassment, data breaches, toxicity and hate speech lurk around every corner to ruin the experience these combined brands are building via their communities. Not until each organization has a single custodian of trust will Web3 transcend its inherent problems.

Until then, we will continue to handle reactively safety, privacy and inclusion risks inherited from the social web, eroding the value of Web3 from the inside-out. And it’ll be like that until Chief Trust Officers plug the leaks, rebuild the system, and put trust back at the heart of the web.

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