Social media is an essential corporate strategy today. For many organizations it has become the primary communication vehicle with their customers, transforming the once traditional advertising and public relations channels of print, radio, or television, into real-time tweets, blogs, or Facebook posts.
Social Media is a fantastic way to develop your market reach, extend your brand, and nurture customer relationships, but if not done correctly, it can end up eroding trust and working against the very goals you’re trying to accomplish.
Because of the instantaneous, easily propagated, and far-reaching nature of social media, your “trust busting” gaffes have the potential to create exponentially more damage than an ill-worded press release. Perhaps you’re familiar with some of these recent social media disasters:
- Shortly after an 8.6-magnitude earthquake struck the coast of Thailand and residents were rushing to higher ground in fear of a possible tidal wave, KFC Thailand posted a message on its Facebook page encouraging residents to “hurry home this evening to monitor the earthquake situation and don’t forget to order the KFC menu, which will be delivered direct to your hands.”
- During the Arab Spring of last year, fashion company Kenneth Cole made light of the situation by tweeting that people in Cairo were rioting because they heard the company’s new spring collection had become available for purchase online.
- In May of last year, a representative of New Media Strategies, the vendor handling the social media communications for Chrysler, tweeted out his personal frustrations about his morning commute via Chrysler’s Twitter account. The tweet read: “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to (expletive) drive.”
There’s no replacement for common sense when it comes to how you communicate your message via social media, but common sense isn’t always common practice. Here’s four ways to build trust through your social media efforts:
1. Stick to your knitting – People participate in your social media community because they value your product, service, or brand. For the most part, they don’t care about your political views, religious beliefs, or want to hear your commentary on the issues of the day. “Stay in your lane,” is the phrase the U.S. Air Force uses to instruct its members to stick to their area of expertise in using social media. It’s much harder to stick your foot in your mouth when you’re speaking out of your area of expertise than it is when venturing into new territory.
2. Be responsive – Participating in social media means being involved in a community. It takes time and effort to cultivate relationships, and only engaging in one way communication to your followers, rather than with your followers, will erode their trust and eventually cause them to lose interest in you. If you use a social media account as part of a customer service strategy, make sure it’s constantly monitored and concerns are addressed immediately.
3. Define the playing field – Many companies have been slow to adopt an intentional, well thought out strategy for how their employees should use social media. A notable example of this was highlighted last year in the case of Noah Kravitz, the former editor-in-chief of the tech blog Phone Dog. When Kravitz left the employ of Phone Dog, he took the 17,000 followers of his Twitter account with him, which Phone Dog later sued over, claiming the followers should remain with the company and not Kravitz personally. If you haven’t created specific guidelines about the use of social media like IBM and Cisco have, you should consider putting something together that will help your people understand the boundaries of the playing field.
4. Be transparent – There will undoubtedly be negative feedback given to you via your social media channels. You can build trust by acknowledging the feedback and saying what you’re going to do to address the situation. An excellent example of this is the way Southwest Airlines handled a series of complaints from Hollywood film director Kevin Smith. Southwest immediately responded to his complaints, apologized for his experience, stated what they were doing to address his situation, and kept the tone of the conversation positive and conciliatory. Don’t delete the negative comments or get in a war of words, but remain professional, positive, and authentic in the way you communicate with your followers.
Having a social media presence is no longer a “nice to have” for organizations; it’s a must-have. Make sure you’re putting your best foot forward in cultivating high-trust relationships with your social media followers by sticking to your area of expertise, instructing your employees on the proper use of social media, and being responsive and transparent with your followers.