Trust Series | Social Media as the Conduit for Real-Time Conversations
- The Trust Series reviews the first half of 2020 and shares how brands can use earned media practices to build trust, confidence and empathy with their audiences during turbulent times.
- Catching up? Click here to check out our first post in the series analyzing the current state of consumer trust in brands and media, and click here to read our second post in the series covering how to build authenticity and accountability with PR.
- Today’s post dives into how brands can use social media in turbulent times to foster trust through real-time conversations.
Amid the tumult of COVID-19, calls for social equity, the impending presidential election, and Facebook boycotts, the stakes have been raised for brands to meaningfully connect with their audiences on social media. These moments have shone a bright light on brands that are able to articulate a clear and compelling vision of what they stand for on social media, while directionless brands have been at risk to be left in the dark.
This make-or-break environment has crystallized and expanded the chasm between brands that are positioned to share their vision quickly and powerfully on social media and those that are not. According to Kantar Consulting’s 2020 research, ‘purpose-led’ brands stand to grow at twice the rate of those without any higher-order societal aim, and this has been playing out front and center on our phones and tablets every minute of 2020 on social media.
So, how can brands rise to the top by building trust with new and existing audiences on social media? The key is to have a proactive, always-on plan to listen, speak, and engage.
1. Listen: Leverage Social Listening to Stay Ahead of Conversation Trends
According to The GDELT Project, more than 300 million tweets are sent each day, which means more than a million tweets will be sent during the time that it takes to read this story. With so much conversation moving so quickly on social media, how can brands efficiently understand what their audiences are saying and feeling and turn that into meaningful and empathetic action? Enter social listening.
- Understand What Your Audience is Feeling in Real-Time: Brands must embrace the inherent two-way nature of social media by setting up proactive social listening. Many of the industry leaders in this realm streamline the process by leveraging a social listening tool. When setting up social listening, the first step is to make sure you have a close eye on what people are saying about your brand in your brand-owned communities. But to gain a full picture of the environment, we recommend monitoring brand-owned mentions both within your existing communities as well as outside your brand-owned walls, because you will often find that people are talking about your brand on their personal channels, and those conversations are just as important.
- Uncover Areas of Opportunity: Social listening is so much more than passively seeing what your audience is saying. As movements take shape or as a crisis hits, you will find that your audience may have shifting priorities and frustrations. But keep in mind when weighing conversation sentiment that vocal minorities may appear to represent a larger percentage of your audience than in reality because many social users read comments on social media but do not leave them. A certain amount of disagreement is bound to come with the territory on social media, so resist the temptation to veer off path in a misplaced attempt to appease detractors. In order to understand how your brand can fit into a social conversation, you must be aware of and sensitive to not only your audience, but also what other brands are saying. Do you have an opportunity to be ‘first’ in your industry to take a stand for something that aligns with your brand values, or identify an audience need that is not being met by your competitors?
- Optimize by Evaluating Reaction: Will there be themes or pieces of content or engagements—guided by your brand values—that resonate with your audience more than others? Inevitably, yes. And that is a good thing, because this is where social listening doubles as an invaluable reporting tool that goes beyond merely tracking numbers. All comments are not created equal, and social listening determines the nature and sentiment of engagements, empowering you to lean into the messaging that is striking a chord.
2. Speak: Be Prepared to Articulate Your Brand’s Core Values
Narratives on social media move quickly, and silence can be deafening, so how can brands stay prepared to gracefully yet impactfully enter conversations when the moment calls? Brands on social media must resist the temptation to jump on trends or storylines that do not align with their core values. That means staying ahead of the game by making sure that your social media team is connected seamlessly to your brand, so when the time calls for it, there will be no need to scramble.
- Keep Your Values Close: More than three-quarters (76%) of Americans claimed they would remember the missteps businesses made during the pandemic “long after it is over” according to the 2020 Harris Poll. Before a crisis or globe-changing event takes place, social media teams should be deeply ingrained in your brand values. We recommend staying close to your core set of brand values, and then taking it a step further to identify the related conversations that you want to engage in. Is diversity a cornerstone of your brand? Then prepare to speak about it. Bringing joy to others? Plan how to demonstrate your ideals when the time is right.
- Dust Off Your Social Media Brand Guides: Hold on… social media brand guides? First, do you have social media brand guides? If not, build them. And keep them updated. A social-first brand voice and style guide ensures content consistency and functions as your one-to-many communication guide. A community management guide, your one-to-one communication guide, should be refreshed frequently in alignment with your overall messaging. These guides become your north stars when navigating turbulent times, and by building them on the front end, they will be the backbone of your larger social strategy, ensuring that your brand purpose is articulated in all communications with your audience.
- Be Prepared to Riff on News That is Relevant to Your Brand: Treat your social media presence as part of a larger ecosystem. If something relevant is trending within social media or in the world at large, your brand should be prepared to know your place in the conversation. We cannot predict the future, but as the world evolves, you will not have to rethink what you stand for and which conversations you are best equipped to lead, when the time comes to make a quick decision. Being rooted in your values and planning ahead helps everyone know the general path to take when these conversations arise. Remember, though, that just because something is trending, that does not mean your brand should feel forced to say something. Sitting out an important conversation can present risks but wading into a storyline for the wrong reasons—like a quick PR bump—can prove outright damaging.
3. Engage: Your Social Engagement Approach Should Always Be On
Social media is the ultimate tool for building trust via two-way communication, but how can a brand engage in a trust-building way As discussed in our Trust Series Intro post, purpose-based brands drive business. Younger generations nearly demand that brands express their values and beliefs, but even a majority of older generations say that it is important that the companies they buy from are clear about what values they stand for. Thus, trust is driven through purpose.
- Activate Your Always-on Approach: This does not mean that your social media advertising should necessarily always be on. If you go back to the beginning of social media, it functioned as a connector of people, not as an advertising platform, and just because it has proven efficient at the latter does not mean you should lose sight of its potential for the former. An always-on approach does not even necessarily mean that you should maintain an always-on publishing schedule either. It does mean staying proactive with monitoring, social listening, and community management. And it does mean that even if you are not publishing, your inactivity should be the result of a proactive, thoughtful decision to not publish. Being on does not necessarily mean saying something. Being on means you have confidently decided when, where, how, and what to say. An always-on approach also entails creating contingency plans. If you opt to move away from promoting on a social media channel, where will you be moving your promotions, and why? And what are your prerequisites for moving back into a social media channel that you decided to move away from?
- Be Ready to Back Up What You Say: Empty words and gestures are more harmful than saying nothing at all, so your brand needs to be prepared to turn words into action. Once something is published on social media, it is forever. That means you will be held accountable for what you said three days, three weeks, or three months ago. On the other hand, staying true to your core brand values—and living them—will build trust. That means charting a short-term and long-term plan and converting on it. If, for instance, your brand values dictate that it is appropriate to show support or solidarity with a burgeoning movement, then you need to demonstrate how your brand is actively and tangibly supporting the movement. The good news: Social media offers a visible, real-time venue to do just that.
- Build Trust Through Consistency and a Human Touch: What makes your best friend your best friend? For many, it is about an interconnected balance of relatability, consistency, and trust. This is not the story that is going to tell you that a brand should take the place of a best friend, or even mimic one. But for a brand to establish a degree of trust on social media, it is imperative to live up to its word. It is not enough to stand for something, anything. The beauty of social media is that brands can rise above and build trust by standing for what they truly believe in, by bringing their values to life through a personality, through a human touch.
Now is the time to take meaningful action. Are you interested in leveraging your social media channels to elevate your brand’s efforts and help build trust? Let’s chat. Contact Sarah Schmidt at [email protected] or Lauren Murray at [email protected].
And, make sure to join us next week as we explore how brands can redefine influencer marketing to bolster trust amid change.