People don’t trust marketers. In fact, people are skeptical of just about everyone outside of their own social circle. According to a recent Forrester survey (via TechCrunch), it’s likely your audience trusts social media messages less than sponsored search results or even direct email marketing. However, despite its perceived unreliability, social media may actually be the perfect sphere for gaining credibility due to the accountability and transparency inherent in the nature of its platforms. After all, you’re only as good as your word.
Moving forward, the conversation between brands and clients should be a dialogue, not a monologue. It is a “give-and-take” form of communication, not a “push” of ideas on a passive audience, which is the way that traditional broadcasting has worked in the past. Customers (be they businesses or consumers) want to talk to companies and brands in a more personal way. Although this new model may scare some marketers, it should elate them. Forbes reminds us of the old adage, “All things being equal, we do business with people we like and trust.” Social media affords all brands the opportunity to be the likable “next-door neighbor” rather than a hawkish door-to-door salesman. The more transparent you are, the more your audience will trust and respect you. The key to transparency, then, is genuine, human communication.
Defenders and Detractors
For starters, here are some objectives for using social media messaging to increase transparency:
- Honesty – When someone asks you a question, answer truthfully. If someone calls you out for making a mistake, own up to it. “No cover-ups!”
- Openness – Encourage conversations. Don’t delete negative comments or remarks that differ from your stated opinion.
- Individuality – Display prominently your business’ values and identity.
This last point is the most radical departure from more traditional methods of doing business. Before social media, how many hungry Southerners ever considered whether or not Chick-Fil-A supported marriage equality? In today’s digital landscape, however, a small cohort of conscious consumers can make public inquiries about corporate responsibility, and then instigate a boycott if they find the answers unsatisfactory. OK, so maybe there is a reason for some marketers to be a bit scared, but these problems can be mitigated or altogether avoided with properly transparent communication. Indeed, many of Chick-Fil-A’s supporters defended the brand vociferously, storming to nearby keyboards and restaurants.
If you have an open Twitter account or Facebook page, customers will certainly use it to heap praise upon you, as well as lob complaints. How you manage these comments will determine what people say about you to their friends and family via word-of-mouth (the most trustworthy source of product information). Keep in mind that these word-of-mouth interactions now happen instantly in the same channels where you’re pushing your product.
The best practices are to behave on social media the same way you would on your personal pages:
- Retweet your supporters
- Ask questions of your followers
- Defend yourself to your attackers
- Share content relevant to your audience’s lives
- Avoid too much self-promotion
Do this in a respectful, personable tone, and do so publicly. Soon your reputation will grow more favorable, bringing with it consumer trust and positive interactions.
Managing relationships, remaining compliant
If you’re concerned with building relationships, customer service gains quite a bit from utilizing social media. A successful deployment would foster deeper consumer relationships, create brand ambassadors, and ultimately drive sales. Customer relationship management (CRM) is perhaps more important in some industries than others. Service providers, such as healthcare professionals, wealth managers, and lawyers, would be wise to adopt a transparent social media strategy. These industries, where the dissemination of information to clients and industry peers is paramount, are begging for the democratization of communication, which social media provides. Again, this could sound a little frightening to people in these industries, especially with regulations regarding what is and isn’t an acceptable topic of discussion. Doctor-patient confidentiality must remain intact, for example, and insider trading is still illegal. Many would argue that giving legal advice in 140 public characters is similarly a bad idea. With common-sense practices and the right safeguards in place, however, even these compliance-laden fields can reap the benefits.
Remember that while social media is the future, customers expect business interactions to follow the traditional values of responsibility and humanness.
Seriously Social, Social2B’s Google+ community, provides a discussion platform for members to share strategies and best practices to maximize social media’s potential within services industries. Become a part of our community and share your thoughts with us and your peers on the following:
- To what extent should a brand publicize its politics?
- What weight do customers place on accountability?
- How else can a business present itself as more human and less corporate?
By Adam Lauria