The world has a trust problem, and according to Nielsen, we marketers are a big part of it. Only 40% of consumers trust marketing content, but 90% trust content from their social networks. Compounding the problem, there are troublemakers among us, who have flocked to social media to expand their marketing reach, promoting the same alienating content they use in other media. And then they wonder why they don’t see a return on their investment. It’s time to enlighten our brethren and teach them how we can collectively participate in social media in a way that puts us in a more trustworthy light.

It starts with acknowledging we have a problem. We think of social media as just another marketing channel when we need to instead think of it as the influencer of all channels. We can tap in to what people are saying about our products and those of our competitors and use unique insights to write more compelling content for our ads as Samsung did on iPhone 5 launch day. We can similarly capture the most talked about areas of interest and use them to help shape not only the content on our websites and in our customer support, but include them as features, as Marketo has so successfully done by introducing over 60 features suggested by their online community.

We must learn to be more social in the real world. Among my clients, tradeshows have regained a lot of focus. We have been missing the one-on-one conversations and collaborations we used to enjoy in our pre-digital-ADD age. As a result, tradeshows you attend today have become meccas of new social media participation that remind us of that simpler, more participatory age. IBM’s October Information on Demand event created a template for how real connections can be made with attendees through “social concierges” equipped with digital devices connecting with attendees encouraging and populating social content that made the event far more personal. The result was 42 informal video interviews that could be leveraged as content, and 14.3 million hashtag references.

Back in the digital world, we must create digital experiences our customers care about. If you’ve ever read Harold Pinter, you’ll notice he has an eerie gift for writing natural dialogue. He draws us in because we feel uniquely connected to his characters. His secret was that he’d hang out on park benches within earshot of people talking and transcribe every word they said to catch the subtleties in tone and tempo for how real people talk about issues. Social media is that park bench for us if we’re willing to listen and talk to our customers not only about what interests them but in a vocabulary that lets them know we get them. They can trust us.

The way to best do this is illustrated by brands that return to their roots and remember who they’re in business to serve. I am most impressed by three companies that illustrate they speak the language of their customers. GetBackToScratch.com is a micro-support community from a food service equipment manufacturer that honors the artistry and passion of cooks making food like grandma did. My evergreen favorite, Cisco Systems, connects the heritage of the importance of networking to larger societal issues through its Connected Life Exchange. And Intel recently surprised me when I discovered its artistic Facebook page and slogan for its recent products: “What makes your computer special is what it makes possible — Go Do Something Wonderful.”

There is more opportunity to fail in social media than to succeed if we treat it like any other marketing vehicle. Social media requires us to get away from being promotional and sensational and instead treat our customers with special attention to including their thoughts in our offerings, being truly interested in what they have to say in the real world, and communicating about the things they care about — with a vocabulary that illustrates they can trust us.

Doug Klein is an Associate Partner at Rosetta, a Top 10 interactive agency, who has worked in leadership roles in corporate marketing departments, traditional advertising and interactive agencies since 1995. He advises leading brand and online marketers on how to create and manage results-driven integrated marketing campaigns and websites, and is a frequent speaker and thought leader in the area of marketing innovation. His specialties include outside-the-box thinking, integrated marketing strategy, search engine marketing and optimization, online advertising and serving technologies, customer lifecycle messaging, buzz and viral campaigns, social media marketing, and enterprise analytics.

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