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How to build brand trust using social media in an era of distrust

Build Brand Trust using Social Media

It’s no secret that how much a person trusts a brand impacts whether they’ll purchase from it. Sixty-seven percent of respondents to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer said they’d buy a product from a company with a good reputation, but also said, “unless I come to trust the company behind the product, I will soon stop buying it.” This sentiment is especially strong among young adults, the upcoming generation of buyers.

Today’s business environment only amplifies the need for trust between customers and brands. People are looking to companies to see how they’re responding real-time to the COVID-19 global pandemic, racial injustice, and other top-of-mind political and social issues. Customers expect transparency, accountability, and to receive accurate information quickly. Brands that don’t respond this way come off ill-prepared, often sending mixed messages that sow distrust. 

Social media channels, which enable instant access to brands, are some of the first places customers turn to engage the companies they do business with and keep a pulse on how they respond to current events. Now more than ever, social media plays a critical role in every company’s ability to build and sustain brand trust. One errant post holds the power to erode this trust, making social channels as much a liability as they are a strategic tool for relationship building. Business leaders must give serious consideration to the strategic approach and appropriate use of social media to support their brand and customer relationships.

Four considerations for using social media to build brand trust

We’ve worked with businesses of all types to develop their marketing positioning, processes, team, and tools to drive sustainable growth. Social media, while just one tool among many, is a critical component of marketing strategies because it enables brands to engage customers regularly. It gives companies the ability to communicate quickly and transparently with customers, which is especially important during disruptive situations and crises.

Whether your company sells directly to consumers, other businesses, or through distribution partners, social media can be a powerful tool for audience engagement and building brand trust. I’ve compiled advice from the lessons we’ve learned from working with clients to help you shape a social media function that earns, nurtures, and sustains your customers’ trust.

1. Staff your social media team with strategic leadership

I remember when social media first emerged as a tool for business. Companies put their most junior employees behind the wheel, thinking it was just a matter of staffing it with someone who understood how to post, like, share, and comment. We now know this is not a strategy that works. Social media needs strategic guidance from seasoned marketers and communicators. These professionals have experience creating authentic relationships between customers and brands and ensuring that messaging is cohesive and ladders up to high-level marketing and business objectives. 

What’s more, strategic leaders have likely navigated and handled disruptive situations that require a business to quickly pivot while keeping customers engaged and informed. Brand trust is built, sustained, or diminished during these difficult times. Having a strategic leader at the helm will enable your team to act quickly and confidently to connect with customers. 

2. Develop a proactive and reactive social strategy

Your strategic leader can also advise the company on both its business-as-usual social strategy (proactive) — and one that’s ready to be activated should a disruptive event occur (reactive). Your proactive approach is what most marketers think about when they think of a social media strategy. It sets your goals and KPIs and answers essential questions that help your team create and maintain a content calendar. These questions could include: 

  • Who are we, and how do we show that across our social channels?
  • Whom are we speaking to through our social channels?
  • Which social channels should we use, given our audience and goals? 
  • How do we want our audience to engage us?
  • What do we want our audience to do after they engage us?

Your proactive strategy should ladder up to what the brand is doing across other marketing channels (e.g., TV, print, events), acting as a connective tissue that keeps the brand consistent. 

Your reactive social media strategy, on the other hand, is one that prepares you for crises and unexpected events. It predicts what cultural, economic, health, and product situations could impact the business and then provides a framework for how the brand would respond via its social channels. It should answer questions like:

  • What’s the response protocol when a crisis happens? 
  • Who are the key players that need to be involved in the social media response?
  • Which social and political issues will the brand engage in, and what’s the brand’s stance on them?

While you can never predict what issues are around the corner, you can prepare your team for them by equipping employees with important guidelines and guardrails on how to use social media during turbulent times.

3. Align your social messaging to your corporate values

Brands today are taking a stand on a broad range of social and political issues. It can be overwhelming to know which issues to engage in and how to do so authentically. The key to this is using your corporate values to guide how you show up and respond on social media. When a new issue emerges, turn to your values to reflect on how they should influence your response. You will never appease everyone (and that should never be the goal), but when you act according to your values, you act authentically and in line with who you are as a business. 

Nike is an example of a company that uses its corporate value of “equality” to guide its response to racial injustice. One example is when the brand chose to partner with Colin Kaepernick as the face of its marketing campaigns and on a new shoe. Kapernick is a prominent name in the movement against racial injustice and police brutality. It was a controversial decision by Nike that may have alienated some of its customers. But the company acted in line with its value of equality, which helped it show up authentically and, in turn, Nike’s social media following hit record highs and its sales and stock soared

Salesforce is a B2B example of a company that aligns its social media content with its values. Like Nike, it has a value of equality and demonstrates it by communicating via its social channels how it’s taking action against all forms of inequality. One movement that Salesforce has shared across its social channels is its company commitment to equal pay for equal work. In 2015, the company set out on a 5-year journey to address any gaps in pay related to gender and race. It has shared progress on this commitment through news releases and updates across social media platforms. This commitment and the supporting campaign has resulted in positive sentiment and engagement, including advocacy and support from employees.

4. Enable employee advocacy across social media

Employee advocacy across social media is a significant contributor to how well a company can build brand trust using its channels. This is especially the case in the B2B world, where, in a complex buying cycle, relationships between individuals are often more important than the relationship with the corporate brand. In the B2B environment, your brand transfers trust through your customers’ trusted relationships with others connected to your business, including employees, partners, and other customers.

Sometimes, a company’s employee handbook and/or corporate culture makes it difficult for employees to engage authentically on social media. By default, attorneys are going to approach your handbook with strict social media guidelines and compliance. Review your policies to ensure they are clear on expectations and values — but that they create an atmosphere that allows employees to engage on behalf of the brand. Employees should know that they “own” their social media channels, but they are always acting as a representative of the brand. 

Find ways to foster employee advocacy with social media training, including social selling training for B2B employees. Teach employees how to use these tools effectively, so they’re sharing content and their experiences authentically and in support of the brand. Doing so will go a long way in building trust with customers. 

In an era of distrust and uncertainty like we’re living in right now, social media plays a vital role in a brand’s ability to connect authentically and transparently with customers. Creating an environment in which your social media efforts can succeed is the first step toward using these channels to build and sustain brand trust.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by applying strategic thinking and thoughtful execution to your social media channels, let’s connect to discuss how Authentic Brand can help. We combine marketers, methodology, and mindshare to deliver Marketing Traction across all of your channels, to build brand trust and fuel your next phase of growth.

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Jennifer Zick

Founder and CEO at Authentic Brand
Jennifer Zick is the Founder and CEO of Authentic Brand, a Minneapolis-based marketing consultancy that helps great businesses attain next-level growth through Marketing Traction™.
Jennifer Zick
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