When building an online persona and brand usually we start with the most basic aspects including over arching brand, logo, colors, core messages etc. All of these are foundational to success. We develop our plan, develop our platform, create and launch our brand presence, integrate social with our business goals and start the social media engagement. However, after a few months goes by we realize nobody is buying from us. Nobody is opting in to our email lists. What has happened? Why don’t they want to further engage with our brand? Do they not trust us? Do they not think that we could bring them value?
Do you lack the trust factor?
There could be many different reasons why your communities are reluctant to engage with you. One of the most common reasons is that they don’t trust you. You have all the pretty colors, bells and whistles for your online presence but you lack credibility. You lack the trust factor.
In real life and offline relationships, trust is built via word of mouth, client and partner referrals. One person talks to another person who knows good and bad about you. You earn a reputation for being who you are and the quality and service you deliver. You may have a solid reputation and trust factor offline but are finding it difficult to establish such online.
If this is the case for you, don’t you fret! This could be for many reasons. It could be you are practically starting over with online relationships. If most of your offline contacts, partners, colleagues and friends are not yet online, then yes you are starting over to some degree. However, you can also leverage your relationships offline to bring credibility online.
Building trust doesn’t happen overnight. However, there are some simple things you can do even if you are just starting out to increase credibility and the trust factor.
1. Establish authority.
First and foremost you must establish authority. Your must know your stuff. Faking it online will not get you far. Social media is far different than handing someone a business card. In the social realm it’s easy to validate who you are, where you have worked, what references you have, who your clients are, who your contacts are within only a few clicks. Your content on all social platforms must scream results. It must be obvious you know your stuff. We need more than one bullet and short paragraph that tells readers you are an expert at whatever it is you do. Give credit to your sources and never take other people’s work as your own. Back up your claims with social proof such as blog content, references, client testimonials, client logos, guest blog posts and more.
2. Social proof.
Yes, even though you may have spent far too much money on that beautiful Twitter background, custom Facebook page and blogsite, you still need to prove to me who and what you are. This isn’t as hard as what it sounds. Don’t ignore this step. Instead make this one of the first things you do when you hop online. Take time to update this content at least once a month. Good examples of social proof include testimonials, customer references, partner references, kudos from other thought leaders, examples of work completed, links to work completed, guest blogs you have contributed to, links to blogs where you and your content has been cited, white papers, ebooks, and the list goes on. Social proof should be instantly available within one or less clicks on your site. I should not have to dig, double and triple click to find it. Make it pop out at me from the front page please!
However, be careful here. You must have the work experience and proven results to back it up. 10,000 purchased Twitter followers is not real social proof. I’d rather see 500 that were earned by providing relevant and valuable content.
3. Walk the walk.
Everything about your online persona, website, blog and social profiles must not only talk the talk but your actions must walk the walk of whatever you say you do. If you claim to be the best social media and advertising agency this side of Texas and know how to deliver results, then your own website and online persona should not look like a fifth grader developed it. Fix the fonts, fix the colors, fix the content.
Take the time to do what you say you are so good at doing! It’s like a dietician that is 150 lbs overweight telling you that they don’t worry about being healthy themselves that they focus only on you. Any good agency, agent, salesrep, blogger, copywriter, consultant, business services provider should be doing themselves what they say they can do for you. “Eat your own dogfood” is what we use to say in the big iron corporate days of the dot bomb era in high tech.
Delete the jargon and talk in real words that establish you as a walking testimonial of what you can do for clients! If you don’t take time to fix your own identity, online persona, brand, website, content, sales processes, business process why should anyone else believe you can do it for them? You are your own best social proof and will be amazed at the number of clients you will get if you start doing this!
4. Be consistent in both life and business.
The days of separating online and offline personas are over and done. You can’t be one person offline and a better, different person online. You are one business, one team, one person regardless if you are online or offline. If you are a one man or one woman business consultant this is even more important. Who you are on Friday night at the bar is the same person you are on Monday morning. Your offline behavior reflects your online success. Be who you are as you are only one person. However, my point is don’t fake it. There is only one you so be that person. Hopefully that person is honest, sincere, real, open, and communicates well with people both online and offline.
5. Hang with the right peeps.
If you hang out with 9 brokes, chances are you are going to be the 10th! Hang out with people you learn from, people who build you, empower you and make you a better person. Avoid the people who kick you down, criticize you and overall envy your success. Be sure you hang with the people who are going places. Establish real relationships and work together. Take time to know and research the people you hang out with. Don’t just trust everyone on first tweet. Just as you need to establish trust with your community, expect the same of those you bring into your inner circle.
6. You had me at first tweet.”
I hear this a lot from many businesses who eventually become our clients. What you tweet matters. Don’t be negative Nelly all day. Give your Twitter and Facebook readers good nuggets of information that help them, inspire them and enable them to get to know you better. We have numerous clients who we have met from one single tweet that inspired or educated them. Don’t minimize the power of inspiring people to engage with you and your brand and start the first stages of trusting you even in 140 character increments known as tweets!
7. Take time for relationships.
I see many businesses and consultants get too caught up in the science of social media that they forget the most important aspect, the art. I am not talking about art as in brand and colors. Instead focus on the art as in relationships and conversation. The tools of social media can be learned by almost anybody. It’s the art of engagement that will differentiate you from the masses. If you are finding it hard to build real relationships online then chances are you are not taking the time to get to know someone. Take time to truly connect with others. Ask them questions. Comment on their blog posts. Reach out to folks you feel comfortable with and build a relationship.
There are new pockets of peeps, partners, crowd sourced blog communities and potential real life friends popping up every day. Get to know some of the folks in the communities. Start your own communities.
8. Build a platform that invites conversation.
If your platform reads like a billboard or corporate collateral from the 1980′s then chances are you are not going to inspire much conversation. Ensure that everything from your content to blog share buttons, commenting systems, opt-in forms, contact forms, colors, and lanugage are all inviting. If you are not getting the engagement you need, then ask a trusted 3rd party to do an assessment for you. Ask them specific questions about how your content makes them feel. Ask them where and how they would engage with you on our social platforms. Unless you invite folks to engage with you and your brand, chances are they won’t. There is definitely not a lack of other businesses successful at doing such that are going to steal their mindshare from you.
9. It’s not about you!
As much as you want to think that your Twitter profile, tweet stream, Facebook business page and blog are all about you, they aren’t. Yes, you can use these platforms to establish authority, build community and trust, it is not a walking billboard of YOU. Your online personas should scream helpfulness, content that inspires, conversation that engages. Talk to your communities in voices they like to communicate, not in web speak. Ask them what they want if you don’t know. Take time to know your audience, partners, clients and more. The better you understand your audiences, the better you will be able to help them. The more you help them, the more they will trust you via your actions.
10. Author content.
Chances are you are in business because you know something. You hopefully know something that is going to help a business or individual otherwise you probably won’t be in business long. Make certain you establish your own content. I am a big believer in sharing and curating awesome content I find across the web with my communities. However, I am also a believer in creating my own content. It is through your own content that people get to know YOU! It’s where you can establish trust, thought leadership, expertise, relationships. Businesses and individuals that are not creating content are missing out on incredible opportunities to connect with people in a way that brings them close to you and your brand.
11. Be honest.
I added this one as a bonus mostly because it should be common sense. If you have an issue with a product, service, software, network, Twitter feed, Facebook post, blog post or other just be honest and acknowledge the issue. Hiding from it is not going to do anything that will bring benefit to you or your business. Don’t under estimate the power of your community and relationships. They are much more resilient when the relationship is built on trust and credibility.
Bottom line, if you lose my trust, you lose me.
I could write a book on this topic and probably should. However, a blog post has to end somewhere. There is no price tag we can put on trust. It is simply invaluable. Take the time to not only be a person people want to trust but ensure your online persona helps you establish such.
Do you struggle with establishing trust in your markets or online? Did this article help you? Or are you a pro who has tips you can share with others? Let’s all help one another as feedback from others is a great way to learn on these types of topics.
This is part of a series on social business titled “35 Social Media Truths“. It is part of a keynote presentation I gave at Rochester Institute of Technology. If you want to hear more, sign up for the 35 Social Media Truths Newsletter and you will receive all 35 of them over a period of time. Included will be different mediums such as video, blog posts and more.