Are You Really Building Trust with Social Media?

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As far as social media goes, building trust is one of the few goals that I can safely claim is a staple in the field of professional social media activity. I’d go as far to say that building trust via social media channels is one of the fundamental reasons that any business should utilize social media.

Now, I’m not exactly blowing anybody’s mind with this observation; reasons why you should build trust are well documented (butdon’ttakemywordforit). If you’ve read anything else regarding how I feel about the language we use for social media you know that I can’t stand when a concept becomes diluted because of inaccurate overuse.

The issue of trust came up in a recent social media hangout I did with some fellow social media professionals, and sure enough – you can see me start to roll my eyes, but then David Amerlandforegrounded one of the most eloquent and accurate definitions of trust that I’ve ever heard. Let’s break it down.

“Trust is the expectation of a positive outcome when there is an inherently asymmetric relationship”

There are a couple of words that can use clearing up. “Positive” means, in this case, “meeting expectations.” The relationship is asymmetric because, initially, the expectant party depends on the target party to deliver an outcome that meets expectations. Where the power sits in these relationships different depending on the situation, but there is always dependence.

How does this relate to social media?

In social media (and other places, of course) we have constant “relationship transactions.” There is an expectation of trust depending on quality of our social media activity. Beyond brand-to-customer/user/potential customer engagement, social media is used as a vehicle for content promotion. The content is related to your brand, and so is your ability to deliver that content. Your social media audience expects something from you, and you should be working to meet those expectations. So, you have to deliver with assumption that people in this relationship are able to make a quality assessment equally. And if they can’t make that assessment, they have to trust that you can.

So, how does trust work exactly? According to David Amerland, there the establishment of trust goes through 4 stages. Let’s call our entities the Audience, the entity looking to give trust, and the Actor, the entity looking to earn trust.

Stage 1, Contact: In the Contact stage, the Actor has to be able to be discovered by the Audience. Not only does the Actor have to be discovered, but also has to do something to capture the Audience’s attention. If you’re a brand, this means you have to create or curate content in such  a way that initiates a sufficient level of initial desire for the Audience to commit to putting effort into figuring out what or who you are.

Stage 2, Perception: After the Audience makes contact with the Actor, they have to be able reaffirm their decision to pay attention to the Actor. The Audience goes through an initial qualifying thought process where they seek to answer the questions: “Does this content, that caught my attention, seem like it might benefit me? Is it worth the effort to consume this content?”

Stage 3, Assessment: At this stage, the Audience has decided to commit a substantial amount of effort to the actions of the Actor. This superficial assessment of the content allows the Audience to gauge if this content is meant for them, if they can understand the content, and if they have enough information to apply the content to their own experience. “If I’m a soy bean farmer, does this article on soy bean market trends apply to me? Are they telling me something I can use? If they aren’t able to discern these things early on in their energy investment – they’re likely to bounce, and you lose that chance to build trust.

Stage 4, Connection: If they’ve reached this stage, trust is being built. The Audience can take what the Actor gave them, apply their own knowledge, their value set and can decide whether or not the content is good. “This content resonated with me.” Now you’re connected. 

Mapping this out when creating content, or when developing a trust building strategy will help you measure your tactics against behavioral goals.

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