Trust is a Beautiful Thing
The other day I was sitting at the Whole Foods deli eating an $11 turkey sandwich on wheat bread, and I thought, why did I pay so much for a turkey sandwich? Then I proceeded to do some grocery shopping, check out was about $105, and I thought, what did I just buy? Both occurrences, I shook off with, "It's Whole Foods, good stuff, I'm healthy." Of course, this is completely a hunch, while the sandwich and grocery seemed great; I have no idea if it's any different than what I could get down the street at Safeway for 75 percent of the cost.
Here's the deal: I'm totally comfortable spending extra money at Whole Foods and always have been. But, why? Whole Foods didn't run :30 second commercials rationalizing the premium value of their food. I heard about it from friends, and immediately my expectations were set. Rumor had it that Whole Foods will provide me with good quality food at a premium (but as friends told me, it was worth it). Because I had endorsements from friends and family, there was an immediate level of trust. My business was Whole Food's to lose.
So, where am I going with this? People trust brands. This is nothing new. What is new is how people are gaining trust in brands and how brands continue to earn that trust.
I see two sources of gaining this trust. The first is the source that tells you about the brand. If I hear about something, a product, event or TV show from a friend, the first step in trust is already met. The second source of trust is earned; the brand needs to maintain that trust by recognizing what the consumer expects and not letting them down.
Now, let's apply this to social media and how it can cover both of these sources. Everyday, I see hundreds of updates from friends and people I want to be acquainted with for one reason or another on Facebook and Twitter. I see what they are reading, eating, doing, thinking about and recommending. I gain insight and make decisions every day based on these feeds, mostly because I'm too busy to do the research on what's good or bad, so I'll just go with what I'm hearing. These are what I call Social Endorsements.
The way for a brand to earn these is twofold. Have a social presence. Twitter accounts and Facebook Fan Pages are essential to creating Social Endorsements. However, this isn't a tool telling people about your brand or marketing message, but rather helping them with what they want or giving them information they need. Whole Foods Twitter account (@WholeFoods) is 100 percent for their customers, answering their questions, giving tips and providing a resource as if they were in the store. All the while people are including Whole Foods in their Tweets, all for their friends to see. I saw @WholeFoods posted in about 30 Tweets in the last hour. Each of those Tweets is seen by hundreds of people, resulting in thousands of social endorsements an hour!
The other way to get endorsements is create programs that are very easily talked about and shared. We just did a campaign with an airline on Where I've Been where you could take a quiz and Tweet your results to all of your followers. While these were only a fraction of total impressions delivered, I'd say that these were far and away the most valuable impressions -- even though they were just text. My followers on Twitter viewed my activity, which led to a small endorsement for the airline. With thousands of people creating activity in Twitter feeds, these small endorsements add up. We did this on Facebook with General Mills and Pink Together for the Month of October - Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Each mom on Circle of Moms, was able to signal their support for Pink Together to all of their friends, with the click of a button. Both resulted in Social Endorsements, which lead to more endorsements, and continued trust.
In summary, brands can earn trust outside of big splash campaigns. Trust is initiated through endorsements on social channels, on and offline, and maintained through consistency and follow through. Because social media is about people, the ability to gain these endorsements and leverage these channels is equally available. However, to gain access to these channels, advertisers have to re-think their campaign targeting users, take a step back and figure out what it is these customers or potential customers expect from their brand. They need to determine what it is that will build trust with existing customers or gain social endorsements to win new customers. Trust is a beautiful thing and the ability to gain or lose it is staring us in the face thanks to social media.