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Web of Trust: The Case for the Social Work Force

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If you measure social media performance in terms of posts or messages or conversations, your decisions are potentially off track. If you really want to use social media effectively, you need to think in terms of people. Ultimately, social media should help your brand develop relationships with people. Learn how your brand can effectively and efficiently nurture relationships with people in social media and how to empower your employees and partners to do so.
This chapter is from the book
  • “Before a revolution, everyone says it’s impossible. Afterward, everyone says it was inevitable.”
  • — Anonymous

Social media are all about people and relationships—not brands, not technology. People.

While most of us understand that online advocacy drives sales, many people do not realize that sales correlate strongly with the number of people who advocate for a brand, not the number of online posts or messages advocating for a brand.

This is a critical point to understand: if you measure social media performance in terms of posts or messages or conversations, your decisions are potentially off track. If you really want to use social media effectively, you need to think in terms of people. Ultimately, social media should help your brand develop relationships with people.

And the most important strategy question that we must ask ourselves is, “How will our brand effectively and efficiently nurture relationships with people in social media?”

After all, relationships require effort. They aren’t always predictable. And they typically require at least two parties to give and take together.

In many cases, it is far more natural for your customers and other audiences to develop relationships with your employees and your business partners rather than with brand-owned teams or channels. Why? Here are a few reasons.

First, we all tend to form relationships with people we perceive to be like ourselves. When you expose the diversity of your employees to your audiences, you dramatically increase the chance that your audience will find and establish a relationship with someone they perceive to be like themselves.

Second, each of your employees has a certain expertise. Different people understand different parts of your products, for example. People trust experts, and they want to hear from those experts when they have a question or a need for information.

Third, a brand is not a person. Brands do not empathize. They do not feel passion. But people do.

Ultimately, brands that empower their employees in social media give a tremendous gift to their audiences in the form of expertise, diversity, and passion.

But empowering employees and partners in social media is not simple. You have to do more than write a policy, publish training, and give people permission to engage. In reality, including more people requires a different approach.

For example, when you add a large number of employees to your social media engagement, you can easily overwhelm your audience with repetitious content, producing a negative experience.

As another example, we have found that traditional PR approaches to influence outreach simply do not work when you start adding lots of employees and partners to the process. The tools are inadequate, and it takes new processes and skills to coordinate development of external relationships across a large number of employees.

If you want to empower employees to build advocacy for your brand, you’ll need to provide a support structure—just as you would with any other organizational capability. In addition, large-scale empowerment in social media usually requires critical change management and cultural support, especially when your employees already have a full-time job. After all, most of your employees are not professional communicators.

And this is not just about your employees. Different industries use different roles to communicate with the market. Some brands use channel partners or suppliers. Insurers use agents in local neighborhoods or contact centers; technology companies use channel partners and sales people; pharmaceutical brands use sales people and researchers; and so on.

In the past few years, some people have suggested that brands should hire journalists to create compelling content on behalf of the brand. And we believe that many brands could bolster their marketing and communications organizations in that way.

However, that approach only goes so far and, in fact, simply will not scale to the levels needed by brands today. Specifically, it is far easier to train experts to publish than it is to train journalists to be experts. As stated by Shel Holtz, Principal at Holtz Communication + Technology, “It’s important to understand that SMEs-as-brand-journalists is part of the future. Great writers will always have value and companies will always be able to use them. But the idea of hiring writers to write about areas of expertise that are alien to them makes a lot less sense than teaching people who are already experts how to write well.”1

Too many social media “strategies” today focus on tools that will be implemented; impressions, friends, or followers; or campaign goals they will achieve. Too few social media strategies specify the relationships they intend to nurture and the business value that the organization expects to accrue from those relationships. We hope this book gives you the tools to change that within your organization.

In the remainder of this book, we explain how you can create a systematic program that empowers your employees and business partners to leverage their professional expertise and skills to build a web of trust that supports and protects your brand.

We show you how to select, train, and retain them. We also show you how to navigate the complicated world of influence and how to protect employees and your brand from online threats to privacy and security. We explain how you can build a program team that suits the scale of your organization—be it large or small—and how to evaluate the readiness of your organization as well as measure the contribution of employees engaged in social media. And we show you how to bring executives on board so you can get the funding and resources that you need to succeed.

Finally, we discuss emerging trends that will make the social employee a basic fact of life and a requirement to compete for almost all brands.

If you believe nothing else, believe this: online advocacy drives sales. And the most cost-efficient way to create sustainable online advocacy is to empower your employees. The remainder of this chapter explains why.

The Source of Brand Power Today

Online advocacy drives business. When advocacy increases, sales increase (with a 30- to 60-day lag). When advocacy decreases, sales also decrease. In fact, 53 percent of changes in sales can be attributed to changes in the number of people advocating for a brand online.2

The same holds true for any action that you want people to take, whether it’s buying, voting, or applying for a job: when more people online endorse an action, more people are likely to take the action—online and offline.

People Need to Hear a Message More Times to Believe It

But advocacy isn’t easy to create. In fact, people are growing more skeptical in general and harder to convince of anything.

As of 2012, 63 percent of people need to hear something three to five times to believe it.3 In 2011, it was 59 percent, so it increased by 4 points between 2011 and 2012. Simply stated, people require more repetition to believe any new message that they hear.

As Figure 1.1 shows, 72 percent of people need to hear something three or more times to believe it.

Figure 1.1

Figure 1.1 People need to hear information about your company three to five times to believe

Source: Edelman. “2012 Edelman Trust Barometer.” http://bit.ly/Edelman-2012.

The trend holds true around the world. For example, in Japan, 82 percent of people need to hear something 3 or 4 times to believe it. So repetition is key; if you want people to believe something, you probably need to tell them 3 to 5 times. Maybe more.

Traditional Media Are Losing Share to Social Media

At the same, time, the McKinsey Global Institute reports that radio and television lost their shares of American media consumption, while social media gained significantly.4 In fact, more than one billion people spend an average of seven hours per week on Facebook alone.5

In addition, business decision makers, just like consumers, increasingly turn to social and professional networks as a primary source of news, information, ratings, and reviews of products and services.

In addition to spending more time engaged in social media, people are also trusting more in social media. While traditional media sources such as news are still the most trusted, trust in social media increased by 75 percent. Trust in other online sources, made up of search engines and news/RSS feeds, increased by 18 percent from 2011 to 2012 (see Figure 1.2).

Figure 1.2

Figure 1.2 People now trusting multiple media

Source: Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising Survey, Q3 2011.

Nielsen found similar results in its 2011 Global Trust in Advertising report6, which surveyed more than 28,000 Internet respondents in 56 countries (see Figure 1.3). In that survey, 92 percent of consumers around the world said they trust media such as recommendations from friends and family above all other forms of advertising—an increase of 18 percent since 2007.

Figure 1.3

Figure 1.3 Trust in different forms of advertising

Source: Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising Survey, Q3 2011.

According to the Nielsen survey, online consumer reviews are the second most trusted source of brand information and messaging, with 70 percent of global consumers indicating they trust messages in online reviews, an increase of 15 percent in 4 years.

In a survey of 1,500 Dutch consumers, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) said they find information posted on social media to be reliable, and 40 percent said that they find posts made on social media to be trustworthy. In addition, frequent social media users believe that financial posts on social media are just as reliable as information published in traditional online media, such as news sites and newspaper Web sites.7

Although nearly half of consumers around the world say they trust television, magazine, and newspaper ads, confidence in each of those media declined significantly between 2009 and 2011. In fact, confidence in television fell by 24 percent, confidence in magazine ads fell by 20 percent, and confidence in newspaper ads fell by 25 percent in just 2 years. According to the advertising agency Edelman, in France and Germany, trust in television news and newspapers fell by ten or more points. China saw double-digit decreases in television as a trusted source, plunging from 74 to 43 percent. Newspapers in that country didn’t fare well either (down by 20 points to 34 percent).

But trust in social media jumped: microblogging sites and social-networking sites went from virtual distrust at just 1 percent each to being greatly trusted by 25 percent and 21 percent, respectively—a likely reflection of the rapid growth in social media usage within China.

As Liz Bullock, Director of Social Media & Community at Dell, describes, “After seven years of work in the field, we have concluded that social media impacts every aspect of the customer experience and life cycle in positive ways, and in some respects, impacts the customer life cycle more than any other medium.”8

Even our traditional source of news—journalists—relies on social media to get their information. In surveying more than 613 journalists in 16 countries across North America, Asia and the Pacific, and Europe in April and May 20129, Oriella PR Network discovered that more than half of journalists (55 percent) use social channels such as Twitter and Facebook to find stories from known sources, and 43 percent verified stories using these tools. Further, 26 percent of respondents said that they used social media to find stories from sources they did not know, and almost one in five (19 percent) verified work in progress from sources unknown to them. The figures are even higher in the United Kingdom, with 75 percent of journalists using social media to research news from known sources.

Scott Kirsner, innovation columnist at The Boston Globe and author of Fans, Friends and Followers: Building an Audience and a Creative Career in the Digital Age, says, “I listen better to people directly involved than people paid to pitch. In-person connections are where it’s at. I want to see companies in their natural habitat: when they innovate, not when they have a PR agency.”10

Social Media Impact Search Engine Results

And if you care about your company’s placement in search engines such as Google, Bing, or Yahoo!, you need to understand that social media have a growing impact on where you land.

In 2010, Matt Cutts of Google gave the first official statement that Google uses links in Twitter and Facebook as a signal in placing search results.11 At the time, no one was sure how social media really impacted search engine results.

On June 7, 2012, SearchMetrics published analyses of search results from Google for 10,000 popular keywords and 300,000 Web sites to determine the attributes that correlate12 with a high Google ranking.13 The chart in Figure 1.4 shows the attributes that most correlate with high ranking in Google search results.

Figure 1.4

Figure 1.4 Social media impact search engine results

Source: SearchMetrics. “Facebook and Twitter Shares Closely Linked with High Google Search Rankings”. 7 June 2012. www.searchmetrics.com.

At the time of this study, social media created five of the top six factors that correlate with search engine rank.

So, if you want people to take a certain action, you need to create advocacy; and to convince people of something new, you likely need to give them the message three to five times. And you will need to use social media to do it.

In the past ten years, the world in which advertisers crafted brand messages to capture the imagination of a mass market and then broadcast those messages via one-way channels disappeared.

But that is not all. Oh, no. That is not all.14

People Trust Employees More than Official Brand Sources

Although trust determines where people buy, people don’t trust brands or CEOs as much as they used to. Instead, people trust employees. In fact, people trust any type of employee more than the CEO. See the chart in Figure 1.5 from the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer.

Figure 1.5

Figure 1.5 Credibility of sources for information about a brand

Source: Edelman. “2012 Edelman Trust Barometer.” http://bit.ly/Edelman-2012.

Figure 1.6

Figure 1.6 Summary of reasons why brands should empower employees in social media

In one example of how this can really impact a business, IBM found that online traffic generated by IBM experts in social media converted seven times more frequently than traffic generated by other IBM sources.15

As stated by Scott Monty of Ford Motor Company:

  • We know that word of mouth is the most powerful method of marketing, as raw and uncontrolled as it is. We also know that having advocates who can represent the brand through their own passion points is crucial. What better advocates does a company have than its own employees, who are usually engaged in word-of-mouth marketing, whether or not they realize it? Harnessing that enthusiasm and knowledge, and specifically encouraging and empowering employees to apply what they’ve always done to social media, has to be the foundation of any company’s efforts if they want to survive.16

In the words of Scott Roen, Vice President of OPEN Forum and new product development at American Express, “Businesses may not have supreme power, but they can work with those that do, the individual influencer.”17

So, if you want to convince people of something, you need to do the following.

  • Tell them three to five times—maybe more.
  • Use social media.
  • Let your employees do the talking.
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