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Social media: How to create a 'trust network' for your brand

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19th Apr 2011
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Sami Siddiqui looks at how brands are creating 'trust networks' to reach new audiences, and what we can learn from them.

I talk, therefore I am.
Mankind has been involved in intense conversation for centuries - with each other, with themselves, with ideas and with brands around them. We need to be heard; we need our opinions to be voiced so we feel more worthy of those opinions, so we realise we do matter to the world and to ourselves.
Most of our self-esteem is linked to how many people agree with us, and how many heads nod when we present an opinion. This basic human instinct to communicate is the real foundation of social media. We have talked for years, but now when we talk, things happen, events unfold, companies change their strategies, products fail, services flourish, and important people listen. This gives us a power we never knew we had.
Social media is the new powerhouse because I have made it so.
Consumers now interact at a speed which boggles the mind. A bad supermarket experience, and in a second, their entire network of friends knows about it. A helpful barista at a coffee shop, and soon everyone is queuing up to Tom. Your consumers are defining their life experiences online as they go along quite literally. It isn’t about isolated technology buffs living life from the safety of their homes and therefore not posing any tangible threat.
Social media and mobile communication means they are out in the real world, tweeting, messaging and Facebooking as and when the most mundane of events unfold. On average the number of tweets that go out per hour is 1.1 million (source pingdom). It’s not as simple as advertising a positive image and expecting it to work - it’s about being on your best behaviour 24/7 because you better believe your consumers are watching. Big brother is history. Welcome big consumer. What does this mean for you?
In each other we trust
Online, offline, virtually, in the real world, whatever the space, consumers have formed peer groups of their own, with shared interests, talking non-stop, interacting, comparing brands, offering advice, solicited or not, affecting behaviour patterns, influencing other consumers, forming opinions, and making decisions for many. This leads to a network of people who all trust - not brands or companies - each other. You reach out to them with a great promotion but they reach out to each other.
This is why smart companies like Lufthansa have jumped on the peer bandwagon by introducing  an application for their frequent fliers "as a member helps member service" that allows them to connect with each other to "benefit from peer group advice."
The next time your sales team thinks one consumer being unhappy isn’t really going to affect you, consider the group effect. This one unhappy consumer will be talking to his own peer group and by the end of the hour, you will have 500 odd consumers very unhappy with you. If this one consumer happened to write a blog about it, which gets publicised on another blog, then you have 2,000 odd unhappy consumers, and the numbers will grow exponentially.
You need to understand this clearly. How do you make them trust you?
  • Be honest: Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Whatever you say on any medium has to come from the heart. If you mess up, you need to own up, if you don’t know how to manage your consumers, ask them what they expect, if you need advice, send out a tweet in cyberworld and be prepared to receive constructive advice from a group of sympathetic, involved consumers.
  • Turn up for the conversation: Customer engagement isn’t just about positive experiences though. Film director Kevin Smith was asked to leave a Southwest Airline flight due to his weight being a safety risk. Angered and upset, he sent out a tweet to his one million followers and they all responded suitably enraged. This could have been a potential PR disaster for southwest, but here’s how they handled it. Despite it being a Sunday, they responded to each person who tweeted, they wrote a blog post apologizing and explaining their position, and a Southwest VP called Kevin personally also. Lesson to learn is that whether you can control the conversation or not, you must show up for it.
  • Consistency is key: If you think for a second that anything you say will go away and you can re invent yourself, you think again. Google archives, web searches, news items, YouTube videos, blogs, tweets, all mean that every little thing you say or don’t say is recorded in history. 10 years down the line, don’t be surprised if today’s one snippet of negativity suddenly comes back to haunt you. You can’t run and you can’t hide. Make sure your brand promise and your actions are in sync, because if they aren’t you will never live it down. Remember what they say, what happens in Vegas stays on FB, YouTube and Twitter!
  • Don’t sell yourself, sell a lifestyle: In today’s world, consumers are very impassioned, aware, and support causes that are very dear to their hearts. The last thing they want is a brand they use going against any of those values or causes, because they believe their choice of brand says a lot about them. An example: HP's Planet Partners Program allows consumers to recycle a wide range of products from any manufacturer. HP provides the service for free, along with an online portal for guidance and instructions.
Make me a part of your inner circle and I will be loyal for life
Once there is healthy level of trust established, then it’s time to bask in the love. The next step is to strengthen your bond with this group of consumers and form an active community which thrives on discussions, which looks to you for innovation and brilliant new ideas while actively providing you with feedback on existing propositions.
The purpose is to be able to create new experiences for your consumers every time and that can only happen if you let them drive the interaction and actively engage, address problems and always keep a line of communication open.
With customer loyalty so hard to come by, a new trend has emerged.
Brand Butlers: With pragmatic, convenience-loving consumers enjoying instant access to an ever-growing number of supporting services and tools (both offline and online), brands urgently need to hone their 'butlering skills', focusing on assisting consumers to make the most of their daily lives, versus the old model of selling them a lifestyle if not identity. (source: trendspotting.com)
The SitOrSquat app, which is offered by toilet paper brand Charmin, allows users to find bathrooms, change tables, disability access and other amenities. The application's users add content to the database and provide feedback when they've used one of the featured toilets. Brand reinforcement, recall and a thoughtful service for consumers.
Vtravelled, launched by Virgin Atlantic, is a social network aimed at creating a global community of travel lovers. The free service allows members to share travel knowledge, thoughts and photos, and access real time updates about destination events and information. Perfect social media and community execution.
I don’t live here anymore
The last decade saw a surge of migrating consumers. Hordes of people decided they just weren’t interested in waiting for their show on TV - I downloaded it days ago-or listening to hundreds of ads on the radio - I already have my favourites on iTunes -looking at a billboard-I am not interested-or even opening snail mail - anyone I want to hear from is on Facebook. So while advertisers, marketers, companies, continued their predictable attack on consumers, they had already moved on, out of the attack path. The attack fell on empty spaces, and disinterested ears - consumers had left the building.
Another phenomenon that occurred was the friend advocate.
More and more consumers turned to their peers, their friends, people who were like them, for advice on what to buy, where to eat, how to travel, the latest trends, and practically everything else. Consumers stopped relying on what the brand said about itself, and started trusting/following the choices made by their peers. Your marketing budgets for print ads, TV commercials, and billboards all just got wasted because the consumer doesn’t need you to tell him anything.
Gonabit is a living social website which provides daily deals for customers and lets you rate the deals too so fellow foodies can read your review and decide if they want to try the deal.
You choose a book on Amazon, and it will tell you what else was bought by people of similar interests who bought that book. Sometimes it makes for very insightful suggestions because they are based on a peer group which shares interests.
I’m listening
Congratulations, your consumers are now on your team. Don’t get too comfortable though -they could switch sides any minute unless you keep them engaged and entertained. Use all the channels at your disposal to keep them aware and informed of your latest ventures, your future plans and show them your ability to conform to their needs.
Your company has a great website, but without those seduced consumers, the website was a bust. Now that you have put in the hard work, they will make the time to see what you have to offer. Once you have become social, make sure you never ignore your website again, because you cannot afford to lose their attention. Keep it active, fresh, engaging, and motivate the consumer to come back again and again. Companies are doing so in remarkably innovative ways, so think creatively. Here are some examples.
Joie De Vivre, a company that operates 33 luxury hotels in California is using a variety of social media platforms to drive sales and marketing for its properties. Central to the hotel group’s strategy is disseminating deals and coupons to followers and fans on Facebook and Twitter. They have been successful in connecting their consumers to their central information platform-their website-by attracting them through various social media channels, where they are willing and ready to listen. The company has also partnered with foursquare to offer deals for check-ins at their restaurants.
The best example of driving consumers back to the company site for new deals is their Road Trippin’ California contest, which asked people to submit videos on YouTube that share why they love California. Three winners, out of 270 videos that were submitted, were selected to win all-expense California road trips with stays in the company’s hotels.
New York Times has now completely customized the newspaper experience. In a perfect example of driving people to your website via other mediums, NYT lets you log in using the Facebook connect feature, and read articles recommended by your peers, but to read the article you still go back to the New York Times website. Readership has gone up dramatically. What a great way to leverage social media to route traffic to your website.
Amazon in collaboration with LinkedIn has enabled you to share your reading list with people on your LinkedIn network. Keeping in mind the growing importance of peer recommendations, this is a super idea. It allows you to post reviews, share your favourite reads, and identify with like-minded readers. To purchase the books, you end up back on Amazon’s website. They didn’t push you, just nudged you enough to stay interested and shop at Amazon.
The key to successfully marketing in this new age is that there is no key. Your ideas must keep changing. Learn from the fashion industry. Keep evolving with the seasons. Identify with individuals. Focus on those who care enough to listen. Forget the masses. Forget consistency. Forget the average. Be remarkable.
“Remarkability lies in the edges. The biggest, fastest, slowest, richest, easiest, most difficult. It doesn't always matter which edge, more that you're at (or beyond) the edge” - Seth Godin
Sami Siddiqui is VP of CRM & Business Analytics at Mashreq.

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