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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

Marketing amidst uncertainty: 3 considerations

(BUSINESS MARKETING) As the end of the COVID tunnel begins to brighten, marketing strategies may shift yet again – here are three thoughts to ponder going into the future.



Open business sign being held by business owner for marketing purposes.

The past year has been challenging for businesses, as operations of all sizes and types and around the country have had to modify their marketing practices in order to address the sales barriers created by the pandemic. That being said, things are beginning to look up again and cities are reopening to business as usual.

As a result, companies are looking ahead to Q3 with the awareness they need to pivot their marketing practices yet again. The only question is, how?

Pandemic Pivot 1.0: Q3 2020

When the pandemic disrupted global markets a year ago, companies looked for new ways to reach their clients where they were: At home, even in the case of B2B sales. This was the first major pivot, back when store shelves were empty care of panic shopping, and everyone still thought they would only be home for a few weeks.

How did this transition work? By building out more extensive websites, taking phone orders, and crafting targeted advertising, most companies actually survived the crisis. Some even came out ahead. With this second pivot, however, these companies will have to use what they knew before the pandemic, while making savvy predictions about how a year-long crisis may have changed customer behavior.

Think Brick And Mortar

As much as online businesses played a key role in the pandemic sales landscape, as the months wore on, people became increasingly loyal to local, brick and mortar businesses. As people return to their neighborhood for longer in-person adventures, brands should work on marketing strategies to further increase foot traffic. That may mean continuing to promote in-store safety measures, building a welcoming online presence, and developing community partnerships to benefit from other stores’ customer engagement efforts.

Reach Customers With PPC

Obviously brick and mortar marketing campaigns won’t go far for all-online businesses, but with people staying at home less, online shops may have a harder time driving sales. Luckily, they have other tools at their disposal. That includes PPC marketing, one of the most effective, trackable advertising strategies.

While almost every business already uses some degree of PPC marketing because of its overall value, but one reason it’s such a valuable tool for businesses trying to navigate the changing marketplace is how easy it is to modify. In fact, best practice is to adjust your PPC campaign weekly based on various indicators, which is what made it a powerful tool during the pandemic as well. Now, instead of using a COVID dashboard to track the impact of regulations on ad-driven sales, however, companies can use PPC marketing to see how their advertising efforts are holding up to customers’ rapidly changing shopping habits.

It’s All About The Platforms

When planning an ad campaign, what you say is often not as important as where you say it – a modern twist on “the medium is the message.” Right now, that means paying attention to the many newer platforms carrying innovative ad content, so experiment with placing ads on platforms like TikTok, Reddit, and NextDoor and see what happens.

One advantage of marketing via smaller platforms is that they tend to be less expensive than hubs like Facebook. That being said, they are all seeing substantial traffic, and most saw significant growth during the pandemic. If they don’t yield much in the way of results, losses will be minimal, but given the topical and local targeting various platforms allow for, above and beyond standard PPC targeting, they could be just what your brand needs as it navigates the next set of marketplace transitions.

The last year has been unpredictable for businesses, but Q3 2021 may be the most uncertain yet as everyone attempts to make sense of what normal means now. The phrase “new normal,” overused and awkward as it is, gets to the heart of it: we can pretend we’re returning to our pre-pandemic lives, but very little about the world before us is familiar, so marketing needs a “new normal,” too.

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Business Marketing

Advertising overload: Let’s break it down

(BUSINESS MARKETING) A new study finds that frequent ads are actually more detrimental to a brand’s image than that same brand advertising near offensive content.



Advertising spread across many billboards in a city square.

If you haven’t noticed, ads are becoming extremely common in places that are extremely hard to ignore—your Instagram feed, for example. Advertising has certainly undergone some scrutiny for things like inappropriate placement and messaging over the years, but it turns out that sheer ad exhaustion is actually more likely to turn people off of associated brands than the aforementioned offensive content.

Marketing Dive published a report on the phenomenon last Tuesday. The report claims that, of all people surveyed, 32% of consumers said that they viewed current social media advertising to be “excessive”; only 10% said that they found advertisements to be “memorable”.

In that same group, 52% of consumers said that excessive ads were likely to affect negatively their perception of a brand, while only 32% said the same of ads appearing next to offensive or inappropriate content.

“Brand safety has become a hot item for many companies as they look to avoid associations with harmful content, but that’s not as significant a concern for consumers, who show an aversion to ad overload in larger numbers,” writes Peter Adams, author of the Marketing Dive report.

This reaction speaks to the sheer pervasiveness of ads in the current market. Certainly, many people are spending more time on their phones—specifically on social media—as a result of the pandemic. However, with 31% and 27% of surveyed people saying they found website ads either “distracting” or “intrusive”, respectively, the “why” doesn’t matter as much as the reaction itself.

It’s worth pointing out that solid ad blockers do exist for desktop website traffic, and most major browsers offer a “reader mode” feature (or add-on) that allows users to read through things like articles and the like without having to worry about dynamic ads distracting them or slowing down their page. This becomes a much more significant issue on mobile devices, especially when ads are so persistent that they impact one’s ability to read content.

Like most industries, advertisers have faced unique challenges during the pandemic. If there’s one major takeaway from the report, it’s this: Ads have to change—largely in terms of their frequency—if brands want to maintain customer retention and loyalty.

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Business Marketing

7 simple tips to boost your customer loyalty online

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Without a brick-and-mortar store, building rapport and customer loyalty can be a challenge, but you can still build customer loyalty online.



Man and woman at kitchen table online shopping on laptop together, boosting customer loyalty.

With many businesses – both big and small – operating online, there are less opportunities for building those face-to-face relationships that exist in brick and mortar stores. According to smallbizgenius, 65% of the company’s revenue comes from existing customers.

It’s important to keep in mind the different tactics at your disposal for increasing customer loyalty. Noupe recently released a list of actionable tips for increasing this loyalty. Let’s examine these ideas and expand on the best.

  1. Keep your promises – Stay true to what you’ve agreed to, obviously contractually, but stay true to your company values as well. Even if you feel you’ve built a good loyalty where there is room to take a step back, don’t rest on your laurels and be sure to remain consistent. If you’ve provided a good experience, keep that going. The only change that should happen is in it getting better.
  2. Stay in communication – In addition to the ever-so-vital social media platforms, consider creating an email newsletter to stay in touch with your customers. Finding ways to have them keep you in mind should be at the front of your mind. By reaching out and being friendly, this will help retain their business.
  3. Be flexible with payments – No, don’t sell yourself short, but consider installment plans for pricier items or services. This will help customers feel more at ease when their wallet’s health is at stake.
  4. Reward programs – Consider allowing customers to accrue loyalty points in exchange for a freebie. The old punch card method is still an incredibly popular concept, and is a great way to keep people coming back. The cost associated with giving something away for free will be minimal in comparison to loyalty you receive in order for the customer to get to that point. Make sure that what a customer is putting in is about equal to what they’re getting out of it (i.e. don’t have a customer spend $100 in order to get $1 off their next purchase). If all of this proves successful, this can eventually be expanded by creating VIP levels.
  5. Prioritize customer service – A first impression is everything. By prioritizing customer service, you can help shape the narrative of the customer and how they view your business. This splinters off into them giving good word of mouth recommendations to friends and family. Be sure to keep positive customer service as the forefront of your mind, as giving a bad review is just as easy – or even easier – as giving a good review.
  6. Value feedback – Allow customers a space to provide their feedback, either on your website or on social media. Find out what brought them to you and gage how their experience was. Be sure to thank them for their feedback and take it into consideration. Feedback – both good and bad – can be vital in helping shape a business.
  7. Avoid laziness – Stay sharp at all times. Don’t treat all customers as nothing but currency. Include personalized touches wherever you can. This will make all of the difference.

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