We all want to be connected to something or someone. Those connections are often defined by earning a certain level of trust, feeling that something or someone influences us in some way, and feeling that we are connected by some common thread or shared interest. Social media has allowed for this process to be enhanced. Not only can we develop relationships with people all over the world, we can do it whenever we want, wherever we want. Heck, I can find 10 new friends while I sip my coffee in my pajamas.
Organizations have certainly capitalized on the ease with which we are able to make these connections. Marketers have realized that they too, can make connections with potential and current customers with a few keystrokes. Just as we do in our personal lives, organizations can develop relationships with the consumer by ensuring that three major criteria are met: Trust, influence and engagement.
Do you trust me? Check YES or NO
Developing trust is paramount to the success of any relationship. Lipschultz (2018) posits “while trust has long been assumed to be important for journalists in their relationship with readers, listeners and viewers, it is only recently becoming central to public relations practitioners” (p.23-24). Now why it has taken public relations practitioners so long to know this, I’ll never know, but what I do know is that demonstrating that the organization is trustworthy is a must. Consumers are much more likely to connect with, and ultimately patronize an organization that they believe they can trust. Lipschultz (2018) goes on further to say, “it is clear that media users value trustworthy information…one of the credibility challenges is the nature of online sources” (p. 24).
Social media lends itself to assisting consumers in building trust simply by it’s design. Singhal (2016) posits “organizations are benefiting from utilizing social media in engaging customers and consequently building trust as the customers have access to direct channels to express their experiences as well as expectations” (p. 96). The ability for customers to feel as though they have a direct line with the organization is important in helping them feel connected such that they can freely share both their positive and negative feelings. Consider your own personal relationships. Can you build trust with someone you aren’t able to communicate with?
Online sources are tricky. Anyone can post anything and can pretend to be whoever they want. Just consider how many fake social media accounts there are out there floating around (#FakeNews). It is important that organizations not only be honest about their products and services, but also ensure that they protect their social media platforms to prevent hacking, the unintended sharing of misinformation, and ultimately damage to organizational brand.
Influence….come on, everyone’s doing it.
Let’s face it…we live in a world where influencers are everywhere. Celebrities, political figures, and internet stars are constantly telling us what to do, how to do it, and who to do it with. Organizations need to be mindful of who they select as influencers to represent their brands. Research as indicated that “social media sites often are the battleground for influence to determine who we consider to be a thought leader or idea starter” (Lipschultz, 2018, p. 25). It is important that organizations have a clear understanding of who their audience is to ensure that they are selecting influencers who are relevant. For instance, an organization that promotes health and well-being likely shouldn’t use the CEO of a major fast food chain to promote their products.
ENGAGEMENT…popping the big question!
Once trust and influence has been accomplished, it’s time to take the final step in the relationship. “Engagement is defined as ‘the collective experiences that readers or viewers have with a media brand. Engagement can be understood through consumer beliefs about brands and brand experiences. Engagement has been connected through research to satisfaction and media use” (Lipschultz, 2018, p. 25). Plainly, it’s time to hone in on those experiences and values that the consumer shares with the organization and capitalize on them to ensure that the connection will stand the test of time, because as we all know, if two parties don’t have things in common, the marriage won’t last.
Is social media relevant? Yes. Should organizations have it as part of their marketing plan? Of course. But like any important relationship, incorporating a social media strategy takes time. It takes getting to know your consumer, building trust, demonstrating influence, and committing to shared goals. There are many companies who have found their niche in using social media to gain trust and use influence to develop relationships with their customers. Shoe retailer Zappos, who has been known to already have created a strong engagement strategy with their employees has found success in further bolstering the customer service satsfaction through relationship building via social media. You can read about their efforts here.
Lipschultz, J.H. (2018). Social media communication: Concepts, practices, data, law, and ethics. New York: Routledge
Singhal, T. K. (2016). Impact of Social Media Expressions on Engagement and Trust of Customers. Amity Business Review, 17(2), 96-103.
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