Social media is often full of “noise” from brands and personal connections alike. The environment is cluttered simply because everyone wants to be on social media to connect with people. But, as we all know, simply having a profile on a social media network isn’t enough to make the platform work for you – and trying to be everywhere just doesn’t work. Trust is a critical component of building a customer base, and is absolutely necessary for customer retention.
It’s also quite a daunting task, and it can be hard to know where to start. So, let’s start with the basics – an overview of what your audience needs in order to trust you, and then a break down of how you can accomplish it.
What Does Your Audience Need to Trust You?
I think Steve Rayson, director of BuzzSumo, does a wonderful job breaking down the social media trust formula.
- Authority: People are more likely to trust experts on a topic, so the quality of your content – both in terms of what originates with you, and what you share – and the quality of advice you offer when participating in conversations, builds your authority. To keep it going, stay on top of the latest news and trends in your industry, and share your thoughts.
- Helpfulness: Ultimately, social media is a community of people. You’ll earn more trust when you are helpful to others, which means taking the time to comment on what others are saying, and answering questions. This means sharing content that can be useful to others, regardless of whether it originates with you or not.
- Intimacy: You should be engaging with people and showing your brand personality. People trust others they know, so it is critical to humanize your brand. You must show your audience that there are people, not just a company, that’s tweeting or posting on Facebook.
- Self-promotion: Whenever you post one of your articles, or a link that promotes your products or services, you’re being self-promotional. If all you’re posting on social media is self-promotional, then you will lose trust.
This lets people know that you don’t have anything to hide. Of course you don’t want to reveal all the details about your company like internal policies and and sensitive financial information, but being transparent about what’s going on in your company is a good thing for building trust.
This also means resisting the urge to delete posts – with an exception to posts that are offensive to other users – even, and especially if they involve negative comments about your company. The better approach is to leave the post up and respond to it directly, so your audience sees you’re not hiding any aspect of your business. The fact is no business can keep 100% of their customers happy 100% of the time, and people know that. Trying to present your business as if that is the case definitely doesn’t do anything to help you build trust.
Take the time to respond to as many questions and comments as you possibly can. This may be fairly easy in the beginning when you’re a small brand, but for larger brands, it may be impossible to respond to everything. When someone reaches out to you on social media, it’s an indication they are interested in your brand. If you respond to what they have to say, in a timely manner, then you’re showing this person (as well as anyone else in your audience who may see it) that you hear what the person has to say and care about the comments.
The key however, is to avoid using a formulaic response. Make sure you’re fully addressing the question or comment. Though it may take more time to write a personal response for each, it’s the better way to go. If there’s a complaint or other issue that can’t or shouldn’t be resolved on the public forum, invite the person to contact you by phone or email to resolve the situation. Redirect to the appropriate channel when you can’t solve the issue in 140 characters or less.
How can you make sure you’re not missing mentions, especially when more than 30% of tweets don’t include a twitter handle for your company? Use tools like Mention, Hootsuite, and Sprout Social to keep an eye out for various iterations of your handle.
Netflix, and several other brands, have a separate Twitter account dedicated to customer service where they respond to questions and comments from customers.
Entertain and Engage
While it’s true most of your posts should be about what’s going on in your industry, there must be room in your strategy to include entertainment and humor. Let’s say you find a short video or meme on Monday morning that makes you laugh out loud. As long as it’s appropriate for your brand, you should consider sharing it with your audience, since they’ll likely find it funny, too.
Sharing this kind of content helps to lower your audience’s defense, and humanizes your brand because it shows there is a real person behind the screen sharing the posts. It contributes to building a fun personality, and builds trust because it shows you’re about communicating with your audience, instead of just throwing your products and services.
Hold Yourselves Accountable
Regardless of the kind of company you operate, something bad will happen eventually. It’s just reality. You could miss a deadline, mess up a shipment, or find an employee subject to criminal charges. No matter the nature of the negative news surrounding your company, you must hold yourself accountable publicly on social media if you want to build, or keep, trust.
Rather than trying to cover up the incident or make excuses for why the situation occurred, acknowledge what caused the incident. Clarify details of the situation. If it’s possible to make it up to your followers in any way, do it. It shows your audience you acknowledge your mistakes (humanizing your brand in the process) and will do whatever it takes to correct them.
A few years back, Digornio Pizza made a big mistake on social media – jumping into a trending hashtag (#WhyIStayed) without doing research first. A hashtag where people were sharing their stories of domestic violence in response to a video of NFL player Ray Rice punching his then fiancé, the company made light of it. After the back lash, they published this tweet to apologize for the issue.
And here’s an example of what not to do.
A few years back, a restaurant was featured on Kitchen Nightmares. After the show aired, they responded to the social media backlash by jumping in angry, and outright insulting fans. If that wasn’t bad enough, the next day, they were claiming all their accounts were hacked, and they were in contact with the FBI. The brand page is gone, but BuzzFeed has an article with screenshots – proof that what you do online never really goes away.
Avoid Being Too Promotional
There’s nothing wrong with using social media to promote your business. The problem comes in when you’re doing it too much, or it’s the only thing you’re using social media for. When your followers feel like all you do is shove your business down their throats, they aren’t going to trust that you have their best interests in mind. It’s a good way to lose followers, or get completely ignored.
This means finding content to share that doesn’t always start with you – things your audience will find useful. You can do this with content curation tools, and by following the RSS feeds for industry blogs, as well as the competition, and any partners you have. Follow hashtags on Twitter, so you can see what others are sharing.
When you are being promotional, offer something exclusively to your followers – such as a free shipping code, a coupon, or a free product with an order of at least $X dollars. Run limited-time sales only for your social media followers.
Promote Corporate Social Responsibility
Corporate social responsibility is a wonderful way to show your community you care. It helps boost the perceived value and ethics of your brand. Social media is a great platform to let people know about your efforts.
You shouldn’t use social media to brag about your efforts, but you can use it to discuss charitable contributions and volunteer initiatives you are part of, especially in your local community. Encourage your audience to make their own contributions, and you’ll not only build trust, but cultivate charity from your audience.
Lush Cosmetics is a brand built on natural and fresh ingredients, against animal cruelty, and for ethical ingredient sourcing. These values help bring customers. On their Facebook page, you see them promoting the fact they aim to have a range of self-preserving products because they do not require the use of synthetic preservatives.
Though there has been some backlash, Cheerios is using social media to promote their #BringBackTheBees campaign. The premise is great – but Lifehacker explains the flaw in their approach.
Since the campaign is so new, we’ve yet to see a response from Cheerios about the criticism, but if and when we do – it ties back into holding yourselves accountable.
Trust Takes Time
Trust isn’t going to happen overnight. It will take a consistent effort, and there’s no set amount of time to determine when your audience will trust you. There’s no magic formula, and a number of factors determine a user’s trust level with you. Some users may trust you the second they like your page or begin following you on Twitter because they’ve heard about a positive experience with your brand from a friend or family member. Others will remain skeptical for quite a while.
Don’t stress it. Be human. Start the conversation. Make sure everything you post on social media adheres to your standards, and don’t be afraid of making mistakes. As long as you’re sincere and authentic, that’s all that matters. You can’t buy trust, but you can sell your trustworthy brand at a premium, so it pays to invest in building it.
Remember, it can take years to build trust, and only minutes to destroy it. Keep this in mind in everything you do in social media.
What makes you trust a brand on social? What are you doing on social to foster trust in your brand? Tell me in the comments below.