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What makes for trusting relationships in online communication?

Sigrid Bekmeier‐Feuerhahn (Department of Public Relations, Faculty of Business Economics Behavior Science and Law, Leuphana Universität Lüneburg, Lüneburg, Germany)
Angelika Eichenlaub (Department of Public Relations, Faculty of Business Economics Behavior Science and Law, Leuphana Universität Lüneburg, Lüneburg, Germany)

Journal of Communication Management

ISSN: 1363-254X

Article publication date: 16 November 2010




Trust is an ability that characterises human beings as social creatures. It is becoming a key variable in a society strongly influenced by online communication, and in the important field of PR as well. The present study aims to investigate the possibilities of creating trust in online communication when face‐to‐face interaction, which is usually considered to be a crucial element of communication, is missing. This is an empirical study of the factors that promote or hinder the expectation of trust and the willingness to trust.


The research question is derived from attribution theory and postulates that the assigning of an interlocutor's similarity to or dissimilarity oneself influences the development of trust. Since online communication is a purely verbal exchange, various language styles were experimentally tested to determine whether they would create in the receiver a perception of similarity to or dissimilarity from the sender of the message, so that the receiver would then attribute trustworthiness to the sender.


The study shows that similarity in language code preference creates the perception of personal similarity and influences the attribution of trustworthiness to the interlocutor.

Research limitations/implications

The results are only relevant for the first stage in the process of building trust.

Practical implications

The experimental results are useful in making an innovative contribution to the development of socio‐technical communication strategies in online communication and suggest further scientific research into the determining factors in online communication and their practical implementation


The current study investigates a field that has been relatively unexamined until now. Its originality is in developing a hypothetical approach from attribution theory and in its experimental design.



Bekmeier‐Feuerhahn, S. and Eichenlaub, A. (2010), "What makes for trusting relationships in online communication?", Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 14 No. 4, pp. 337-355.



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Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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