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How Hannibal Lecter holds the answer to building trust online

Building trust online is a complex procedure, especially given how noisy the web is, so could Hannibal Lecter hold the answer? Of course he could.



Trust, social media, and Hannibal Lecter

One of my favorite films – ever – is the Silence of the Lambs. I believe that it’s one of those movies that has an answer for many a sticky situation if you listen and watch carefully. What has brought this to mind lately is the elevated level of spam I’ve seen in Twitter.

My favorite is the form in which people send you an @ mention, instructing you to click a link, tell a friend, buy a product. It confounds me that it’s not obvious to those people why this method doesn’t work. Most of the time, I just block it and report it as spam.

Every now and again, if I see signs of intelligent life, I’ll try to help. I might say “I’m sorry, I don’t believe we’ve been properly introduced.”

A means to an end that eventually leads me to suggest to the other party that just as they sometimes opt out of buying from an unfamiliar site because no other trusted source is involved (like Amazon, KikScore or Google Checkout), neither would I click a link sent to me by a stranger.

For all I know, that link is from a hacker and could lead to some kind of virus or worm. Nor will I pass along messages that I don’t trust.

Trust is so important to online transactions – we need to know that the other party is somehow bound to uphold their end of the bargain. Just as in love, we’ve all been burned at least once. And it makes us more cautious. Also, most of the time the people I meet in social media who chose the road of spam have already made up their minds that what they’re doing is NOT spam.

Further, they think this is their best way forward. It’s better to them to get 1 in 1000 to click, and one in 10,000 to buy with no effort, than it is to take a bit of time to build trust, even if it increases results a hundred fold. Logic tells me I shouldn’t waste my time then. I don’t know why I still chose to – I suppose it’s an amusing past time.

Anyway. The real story here is you, trust in social media, and what you can learn from my weird obsession with this film. None of us here are spammers or we wouldn’t read AGBeat. But we do want to build trust because we know how important it is to making a sale, particularly one online. So how do we get there from here, and can we use social media to help?

Our unlikely hero, Hannibal Lecter, has the answer.

Well, at least he has an answer.

“If I help you, Clarice…”

In one scene, Hannibal breaks down the fact that trust – and even help- is to be earned, just like in social media. He says, “If I help you, Clarice, it will be “turns” with us too. …. I tell you things, you tell me things. Not about this case, though. About yourself.”

Isn’t that the way it is in social media? We can’t just throw information at each other, or it’s not social. We must form relationships, interact. Do we expect to become best friends? No. But aren’t you more likely to do things for acquaintances and peers than you are for strangers?

So the first lesson is to avoid just parroting a bunch of links – get to know people. They’ll trust you more.

Don’t know how? Try sharing something about yourself. It doesn’t have to be your greatest fear or something private. Your name. An interest. Where your office is.

These little tidbits that make us a bit more comfortable than dealing with an anonymous handle, something we can track if something goes wrong – these are the things we seek in our social media interactions.

“Quid Pro Quo, Clarice”

In this same exchange, Hannibal ends his speech with the phrase “Quid pro quo. Yes or no?” Quid pro quo is a latin term that refers to the exchange for something of value in exchange for something else of equal value. Yes, we just talked about value exchange, but this is from another angle.

See, the thing about exchanging information in social media that frustrates so many people is that the thing they give isn’t necessarily the thing they get back. And to make things more complex, whatever they do get back is often not from the source they gave to at the time.

You might share someone’s link to a great article they wrote. But if you expect that the person whose article you shared is going to automatically share yours when you write something, you may find yourself seriously stressed in a short amount of time. They may not see your article. They may not be on at the time yours goes out. Or they’ll see it and don’t like it. Or they like it but it doesn’t fall into the category of things they share with their audience.

Maybe they don’t consider you part of their community, and that’s where they focus their assistance. It may be as simple as the fact that they’re waiting for you to ask.

Social media mimics life in that it’s not an exact reciprocal exchange of energy. So you have to give when you believe, do your best work and make the types of connections most likely to want to tell the world about you. And make sure you thank the heck out of them when they do. Seriously. Thank them until they tell you to shut up.

That’s the second lesson – you can’t control or predict how your returns will come. But you can measure them, guess where they’ll be most likely to re-occur, and help the process along as much as you can without being annoying.

“Tell Me About It and Don’t Lie – Or I’ll Know”

The third thing I learned about social media from Hannibal Lecter is the importance of more transparency. Not necessarily total transparency. But more is good. It used to seriously confound me – how would Hannibal know if Clarice was making up stuff to tell him? Eventually I came to the conclusion that was simplest: because he’s not an idiot.

Your customers aren’t either. While I’m aware that my clients come to me because they don’t have the same insights in my area of experience, I assume that in general, they’re smarter than me. Saves me a lot of time.

Your customers are probably smarter than you are too, or at least smarter than you give them credit for – i.e. they can tell if you blow smoke. They may not know exactly how to tell if they’re being overcharged, but they know who to ask to help them comparison shop.

And even if they weren’t that bright, assuming that in this fundamental BS-detector way that they’ll know if you’re full of it is worth the time and money you’d expend assuming otherwise.

When you were a kid, you knew when that “we’ll see” meant “probably not”. Your customers have to be at least that smart if they’re smart enough to buy from you, right?

Level with your customers, especially if they use social media to communicate with you. As fast as they can use it to praise you is about half the speed it can be used to take you down a peg if you treat them like they’re dumb. Even unintentionally. Just ask Netflix.

“First principles, Clarice. Simplicity.”

Sometimes Hannibal likes to make Clarice come to the correct conclusion herself. Almost like a teacher, he wants her to learn and grow. And with the vanity of many a mastermind criminal, he wants to be the one who taught her.

At one point, he’s attempting to get her to understand why the person she wants to catch kills people, and he says: “First principles, Clarice. Simplicity. Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself? What is its nature? What does he do, this man you seek?”

This is of particular fascination to me because I believe that the best success in marketing comes from starting off with the right target audience. In my own blog, I sometimes write for my peers when I should be writing for my customers. (Or changing my customer group to include my peers, but that’s another story.)

Ponder that question in your own search for more customers, or more repeat business – what does the person you are seeking do? Who is she? What does he like to do when he’s online? Is she having a baby soon? Is he about to propose marriage?

How would either of those events impact how they behave in relation to buying your product? Would it matter at all? Could it help you find where they hang out?

Take some time to develop a detailed profile of who your perfect customers and clients are. If you can nail down who they are, you can figure out where they go online. Then. You could be there when they arrive.

These are just a few things I’ve learned from Hannibal Lecter, and I suppose learning social media insights from a movie that came out before the web is a bit “out there.” But perhaps popular culture can teach us many things about the way this new world is shaping around us. Mainstream or popular, books, film or music, the art we consume matters. It’s all about what we do with what we absorb.

Tinu Abayomi-Paul is the CEO of Leveraged Promotion and a member of Network Solutions Social web Advisory Board. Her website promotion company specializes in reputation management, and engineering demand generation system for businesses, integrating search, expertise marketing and social media.

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  1. Valerie Keener

    November 2, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    Loved it. Tom Hanks in "You've Got Mail" said that The Godfather was the iChing for advice. This is a great comparison!

  2. Tinu Abayomi-Paul

    November 4, 2011 at 11:44 am

    Hi Valerie,

    Thanks so much I appreciate that. Have learned a lot from film, books and music – usually something way different than what was intended. 🙂

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Business Marketing

Bite-sized retail: Macy’s plans to move out of malls

(BUSINESS MARKETING) While Macy’s shares have recently climbed, the department store chain is making a change in regards to big retail shopping malls.



Macy's retail storefront, which may look different as they scale to smaller stores.

I was recently listening to a podcast on Barstool Sports, and was surprised to hear that their presenting sponsor was Macy’s. This struck me as odd considering the demographic for the show is women in their twenties to thirties, and Macy’s typically doesn’t cater to that crowd. Furthermore, department retail stores are becoming a bit antiquated as is.

The sponsorship made more sense once I learned that Macy’s is restructuring their operation, and now allowing their brand to go the way of the ghost. They feel that while malls will remain in operation, only the best (AKA the malls with the most foot traffic) will stand the test of changes in the shopping experience.

As we’ve seen a gigantic rise this year in online shopping, stores like Macy’s and JC Penney are working hard to keep themselves afloat. There is so much changing in brick and mortar retail that major shifts need to be made.

So, what is Macy’s proposing to do?

The upscale department store chain is going to be testing smaller stores in locations outside of major shopping malls. Bloomingdale’s stores will be doing the same. “We continue to believe that the best malls in the country will thrive,” CEO Jeff Gennette told CNBC analysts. “However, we also know that Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s have high potential [off]-mall and in smaller formats.”

While the pandemic assuredly plays a role in this, the need for change came even before the hit in March. Macy’s had announced in February their plans to close 125 stores in the next three years. This is in conjunction with Macy’s expansion of Macy’s Backstage, which offers more affordable options.

Gennette also stated that while those original plans are still in place, Macy’s has been closely monitoring the competition in the event that they need to adjust the store closure timeline. At the end of the second quarter, Macy’s had 771 stores, including Bloomingdale’s and Bluemercury.

Last week, Macy’s shares climbed 3 percent, after the retailer reported a more narrow loss than originally expected, along with stronger sales due to an uptick in their online business. So they’re already doing well in that regard. But will smaller stores be the change they need to survive?

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Business Marketing

Why you must nix MLM experience from your resume

(BUSINESS MARKETING) MLMs prey on people without much choice, but once you try to switch to something more stable, don’t use the MLM as experience.



Discussing including MLM experience on a resume.

MLM experience… Is it worth keeping on your resume?

Are you or someone you know looking for a job after a stint in an MLM? Well, first off, congratulations for pursuing a real job that will provide a steady salary! But I also know that transition can be hard. The job market is already tight and if you don’t have much other work experience on your resume, is it worth trying to leverage your MLM experience?

The short answer? Heck no.

As Ask the Manager puts it, there’s a “strong stigma against [MLMs],” meaning your work experience might very well put a bad taste in the mouth of anyone looking through resumes. And looking past the sketchy products many offer, when nearly half of people in MLMs lose money and another quarter barely break even, it sure doesn’t paint you in a good light to be involved.

(Not to mention, many who do turn a profit only do so by recruiting more people, not actually by selling many products.)

“But I wouldn’t say I worked for an MLM,” you or your friend might say, “I was a small business owner!”

It’s a common selling point for MLMs, that often throw around pseudo-feminist feel good slang like “Boss Babe” or a “Momtrepreneur,” to tell women joining that they’re now business women! Except, as you might have guessed, that’s not actually the case, unless by “Boss Babe” you mean “Babe Who Goes Bankrupt or Tries to Bankrupt Her Friends.”

A more accurate title for the job you did at an MLM would be Sales Rep, because you have no stake in the creation of the product, or setting the prices, or any of the myriad of tasks that a real entrepreneur has to face.

Okay, that doesn’t sound nearly as impressive as “small business owner.” And I know it’s tempting to talk up your experience on a resume, but that can fall apart pretty quickly if you can’t actually speak to actual entrepreneur experience. It makes you look like you don’t know what you’re talking about…which is also not a good look for the job hunt.

That said… Depending on your situation, it might be difficult to leave any potential work experience off your resume. I get it. MLMs often target people who don’t have options for other work opportunities – and it’s possible you’re one of the unlucky ones who doesn’t have much else to put on paper.

In this case, you’ll want to do it carefully. Use the sales representative title (or something similar) and, if you’re like the roughly 50% of people who lose money from MLMs, highlight your soft skills. Did you do cold calls? Tailor events to the people who would be attending? Get creative, just make sure to do it within reason.

It’s not ideal to use your MLM experience on a resume, but sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. Still, congratulations to you, or anyone you know, who has decided to pursue something that will actually help pay the bills.

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Business Marketing

This smart card manages employee spending with ease

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Clever credit cards make it easier for companies to set spending policies and help alleviate expense problems for both them and their employees.



Spendesk showing off its company credit cards.

Company credit cards are a wonderful solution to managing business expenses. They work almost exactly like debit cards, which we all know how to use, am I right? It is the twenty-first century after all. Simply swipe, dip, or tap, and a transaction is complete.

However, keeping up with invoices and receipts is a nightmare. I know I’ve had my fair share of hunting down wrinkled pieces of paper after organizing work events. Filling out endless expense reports is tedious. Plus, the back and forth communication with the finance team to justify purchases can cause a headache on both ends.

Company credit cards make it easier for companies to keep track of who’s spending money and how much. However, they aren’t able to see final numbers until expense reports are submitted. This makes monitoring spending a challenge. Also, reviewing all the paperwork to reimburse employees is time-consuming.

But Spendesk is here to combat those downsides! This all-in-one corporate expense and spend management service provides a promising alternative to internal management. The French startup “combines spend approvals, company cards, and automated accounting into one refreshingly easy spend management solution.”

Their clever company cards are what companies and employees have all been waiting for! With increasing remote workforces, this new form of payment comes at just the right moment to help companies simplify their expenditures.

These smart cards remove limitations regular company cards have today. Spendesk’s employee debit cards offer companies options to monitor budgets, customize settings, and set specific authorizations. For instance, companies can set predefined budgets and spending category limitations on flights, hotels, restaurants, etc. Then they don’t have to worry about an employee taking advantage of their card by booking a first-class flight or eating at a high-end steakhouse.

All transactions are tracked in real time so finance and accounting can see purchases right as they happen. Increasing visibility is important, especially when your employee is working remotely.

And for employees, this new form of payment is more convenient and easier on the pocket. “These are smart employee company cards with built-in spending policies. Employees can pay for business expenses when they need to without ever having to spend their own money,” the company demonstrated in a company video.

Not having to dip into your checking account is a plus in my book! And for remote employees who just need to make a single purchase, Spendesk has single-use virtual debit cards, too.

Now, that’s a smart card!

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