This is a guest post by Sigrid Zeuthen, global marketing manager at Besedo. Besedo provides efficient content moderation for online marketplaces.

Building trust is one of the key components that facilitate transactions in an online marketplace. From communication channels to identity verification methods, there are many steps marketplace owners can take to build trust in their marketplace. This article adds a further point of view to the discussion of trust, that of content moderation.

How do you get people to trust your marketplace platform enough to sign up and engage with other users? If you have ever had a discussion or a strategy meeting addressing this question, you are in good company with industry heavyweights such as blablacar, Airbnb, and Gumtree.

According to Rachel Botsman, when it comes to trusting a new online platform, people follow a pattern she calls “climbing the trust stack.” First, potential users need to trust that the idea a platform is facilitating is safe and worth trying. On the second level of the trust stack, they develop confidence in the specific platform. The third level is about using bits of information to decide whether other users on the platform are trustworthy.

If you are a marketplace entrepreneur—or planning to become one—you already know that trust is essential for running a successful marketplace. Most likely you already have a high-level understanding of how to build it.

This article gives you a set of concrete, actionable tips that you can apply straight away to increase trust in your platform and between your users. The more trust there is, the better the user experience your platform provides. This trust built on individual platforms will also create more trust in the idea of online marketplaces and the sharing economy in general.

Applying the tips in this article will positively impact the entire trust stack of your marketplace and our industry.

Direct promises and implied expectations

When you create an online marketplace, you are not just providing a space for your users. You are promising them a platform where they can achieve their own specific goals in a safe environment. Whether that goal is booking a ride, finding people who want to rent studio equipment, or buying and selling pre-owned items, simply advertising a platform that caters to these needs enters you into an unspoken contract with the user.

If you want to succeed and build trust, it is important that you honor this contract every single time your users interact with your site. The tricky part is to define and uphold both the direct promises that this contract entails, as well as the indirect promises your users read into your offering. On top of that, the recurring challenge with two-sided marketplaces plays in as well, meaning you have to cater to two different user groups: customers and providers.

What is more, the promise you make to both user groups, and their unspoken expectations, are likely to differ. In some cases, fulfilling the promise to one group may even risk breaking the promise to the other. But more on this later—let’s first look at the expectations and promises that you must fulfill as a marketplace owner.

We will use a marketplace for pre-owned items as an example. Bear in mind that, in case the marketplace deals with rentals or services, a further level of trust-related expectations comes to play. This might require you to include, for instance, rental deposits or product insurance to your services, or add an extra step in the process with ID verification or background checks. Nonetheless, the challenges and solutions listed here will be relevant as well.

Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of what customers likely will expect:

ExpectationDescription
Quality search experienceTo be able to search for and find the item they are looking for easily.
Accurate headlinesWhen they click on a listing, what they find will be in line with what the search result (headline) advertised.
Relevant detailsThe listing contains enough info about the item they are looking for to make an informed purchase decision.
Easy communicationTo be able to communicate easily with the provider.
Fraud protectionTo receive the item they ordered.
Authentic productsTo receive the item they expect from the images.
Safe communityBrowsing is safe and pleasant and doesn’t put them in an uncomfortable position (no racism, inappropriate images/text or discrimination).

And here is the list for the providers of our example marketplace:

ExpectationDescription
Frictionless listingTo be able to upload their wares with minimal effort and delay.
Visibility and trafficTo get visibility and receive visits to their listings.
Easy communicationTo be able to communicate easily with customers.
Real transactionsTo be paid for their wares/services.

Meeting all these expectations at the same time can be a puzzle, but it is imperative to do so in order to maintain a smooth user experience and to build trust in your platform.

Consider a customer who pays for an item that never arrives, or who receives a counterfeit item instead of the luxury product they thought they bought. Their opinion of the marketplace will naturally be affected. They are very likely to be a lot more cautious the next time they use your site—if there is a next time. In fact, in a study we conducted on online marketplace user behavior, we saw that 54% of users who detected a counterfeit item would be unlikely to return to the site on which they found the listing. This is a clear signal that trust in the platform has been broken.

To safeguard users against buying counterfeit items, you could put measures in place to physically verify the authenticity of each item, as eBay did with their eBay authenticate service. However, this is not viable at scale, and would likely put a cumbersome extra step on providers. This is probably the reason why eBay discontinued the service within a year of its launch.

Apart from the demand on resources, using an authentication tool touches upon the problem mentioned before. To live up to the expectation of customers to get the real thing rather than a fake, you’d have to include something in the listing process that would make it less smooth for the providers to list their wares. This breaks your promise to the providers of a minimal-effort upload and listing experience.

How do you solve this? There are lots of different components that go into solving the full challenge. To stay within our experience and the scope of this article, we will focus on what you can do to solve the trust challenge through content moderation.

Solving challenges with content moderation

To use content moderation in a meaningful way, we need to take a step back and look at the expectations again. Or, more precisely, consider what could stand in the way of fulfilling direct and implied promises.
Let’s quickly translate the expectations we listed earlier to potential challenges that we can then solve through content moderation.

ExpectationChallengeSolution
Quality search experienceMiscategorized items, duplicate listingsUse text or vision filters to catch duplicate items or listings where description or image doesn't fit the category it has been added to.
Accurate headlinesMisleading text, inaccurate description, mismatch between headline price and listing priceUse text vision to match headline price and listing price. Use text and image vision to verify match between headline text and body + image.
Relevant detailsLacking description, gibberish, wrong language, stock images, low quality images, no imagesUse text vision to catch gibberish and wrong language. Use image vision to detect stock images, low quality, irrelevant or no photos. Then educate your sellers that this kind of images will hurt their sales rates.
Easy communicationTaking the communication off the platformEnsure that you offer a communication method within your platform. Use content moderation to remove external links and contact information (unless you are okay with them). This keeps users safe from scammers trying to get them off the platform, and it also helps you by preventing platform leakage.
Fraud protectionFraudulent adsUse AI models, text and image vision or manual moderation to catch scams before they reach your users. Make sure that users have the option to report content and be quick to act when a fraudulent ad is reported.
Authentic productsCounterfeit items, items in worse condition than listedUse text and image vision to catch counterfeit items. If possible, employ moderators who have the expertise and training to spot the most commonly counterfeited items.
Consider running a buyer protection program where payment is held until the customer confirms that their purchase has arrived in satisfactory condition.
Safe communityDiscrimination, racism, harassment, illegal items (eg. drugs, weapons) Use text and image vision to catch racism, discrimination, harassment and illegal items. Make sure that your users are educated thoroughly on what is and isn't acceptable on your platform. Provide users with the option to report content.
Moderate 1-to-1 communication as well as listings to ensure that conversations between users don't go off track. AI allows you to do this without infringing on privacy.

If we look at the provider side, challenges and solutions look like this.

ExpectationChallengeSolution
Frictionless listingListing delay caused by content verification checks.
Long and confusing listing process.
Automate as much of your moderation process without impacting quality. Depending on complexity and data set quality, AI could handle 95% of your moderation needs.
Visibility and trafficDuplicate content and listing abuse can clog up search results and make it hard to get found. User churn caused by low quality content makes it harder to reach potential buyers. Make sure that your content quality is high. Low quality listings will rub off on good ones, lowering their conversion potential. In a survey we conducted on users search experience, 33% of respondents said that the overall look of a site and the ads listed had a negative effect on them converting. They didn't want to buy because the other listings of the site were of low quality, and that made them skeptical about the site as a whole.
Text and image vision can be applied to manage duplicates and listing abuse.
Easy communicationSpam, phishing and fraudulent messagesUse text vision to detect URLs and fraud markers in 1-to-1 messages.
Real transactionsBuyer fraudThe solution will depend on your transaction and buyer protection setup.
Use IP detection that blocks customers from IPs that have previously been involved in buyer fraud.
Use digital fingerprints to detect bad players and block them. Implement buyer reviews and make sure you review them to ensure that they are genuine.

Steps you can take straight away

As promised, here are four content moderation strategies you can implement straight away to ensure that you keep your promise to your users.

  1. Define user expectations and the promises you make. Expectations will differ depending on your platform. On a community site for children, one implied promise will be that you take a strong stance against harassment and inappropriate behavior. A niche marketplace for horse equipment, on the other hand, implies the promise that buyers won’t have to look through thousands of listings with guitars. Create a list of all expectations and promises, and build your policies and guidelines based on that list. This is going to be an iterative process because as your marketplace grows, you are likely to come across things you haven’t considered.
  2. Start researching the main challenges of your specific industry and the scam trends associated with your niche market. Then educate your team. Good moderators/filters who can keep up with scammers are key to creating and maintaining user trust.
  3. Define your content moderation approach. Make sure you automate as much as you can, but be cautious, so you don’t lose quality. Automation levels increase over time, so don’t rush it. Start with areas where you are sure you can achieve high accuracy. It might be helpful to reach out to third-party experts here to not have to take away resources from product development.
  4. Decide which KPIs will allow you to ensure that your content moderation process is on track and helps your users to reach their goals. Then make sure you track your performance and act on the insights you gain.

A complete content moderation strategy is, of course, a lot more complex, but if you cover the four points above, you are able to lay the foundation for trust for your platform as well as between the users on it. When you have built this foundation, you have overcome one of the biggest challenges of starting an online marketplace.

  • author's avatar

    Article by: Sigrid Zeuthen

    Sigrid is passionate about user experience and online safety. At Blizzard Entertainment she led a team which moderated the in-game chat and provided support for customers. Currently, she works at Besedowhere she raises awareness about the benefits, challenges and best practices of content moderation.

  • author's avatar