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The Importance of Trust on Social Media

Nov 27, 2017
Rachael Bryson
Senior Research Associate,
National Security and Public Safety

On October 30–31, 2017, The Conference Board of Canada hosted a conference on public sector social media. The struggle against fake news, maximizing reach with limited resources, and growing brand engagement were discussed, but one theme that struck a chord with everyone was building trust. In a crowded social media field, how do organizations project legitimacy, and why is this important?

Building Trust

Trust in social media is synonymous with credibility and reliability. This means sharing only accurate and timely information, sharing insights, engaging with your followers regularly, and being active within similar communities to build your reach and reputation. Once you are a trusted source on social media, your community will turn to you for news and insights.

Building trust online is more difficult than it is in the physical world. Organizations must fight against skepticism, a lack of control over social media platform quality, and consumer reactions.

Social media is viewed with more skepticism than traditional media, and online sources from user-generated content platforms (such as Twitter and Facebook) are not viewed with the same level of legitimacy as television and print sources. This demands a higher standard of quality on social media if organizations are to become trusted sources. One misstep can lose you followers, and provide an opening for negative comments and reactions, further damaging the organization’s online image.

Organizations also have no control over negative feedback on social media. Many social media consumers will seek out opinions and sources—legitimate or not—that verify their own beliefs, creating an echo chamber. Users who do not agree with your organization’s social media content, or who simply do not like your organization on principle, may engage in negative feedback campaigns. These interactions can be very damaging to trust. There could be a noticeable decline in views and engagements if enough doubt is cast by consumers, either through comments about your organization, or on your organization’s social media presence. It is important to engage with these consumers to try to provide a counternarrative, while still maintaining a respectful tone.

How to Build Trust

  • Verify your sources. Share only reliable, accurate information from sources you trust. It takes a long time to rebuild trust if you are caught sharing inaccurate information.
  • Don’t delay. Make sure you’re sharing up-to-date information and covering major events in a timely manner. This may mean maintaining a 24/7 presence on social media during major events or crises.
  • Be professional. Spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, and broken links are all things people will use to evaluate your trustworthiness.
  • Engage with your community. Respond to comments, thank followers for their mentions and likes, respectfully correct misinformation, and don’t be afraid to have conversations on your platforms. This will build trust not only with the person you’ve engaged, but also with your community as they see your interactions.

Why Trust Is Important

There’s the traditional return on investment argument for having a strong social media presence: an active community, combined with shares, likes, or retweets, helps to grow an organization’s brand, boost sales, and can be rewarded by search algorithms. Social media engagement is low-cost and can have a dramatic marketing impact. Conversely, a loss of trust can lead to negative online campaigns that can be debilitating to businesses. 

In times of crisis, the importance of already being viewed as a trusted voice is amplified. Social media users, residents, and media turned to trusted sources during emergencies such as the flooding in the Ottawa/Gatineau region, Hurricane Harvey, and the B.C. wildfires for information on evacuations, shelters, and recovery efforts. These channels were also vitally important for countering disinformation and for exposing fake donation scams.

It’s worth putting in the effort to establish yourself as a trusted voice online before a crisis happens, because a crisis will happen. It may not be as catastrophic as a natural disaster, but something will disrupt your organization and force you to be reactive and on the defensive. Spend the time building trust among your community now, and reap the benefits over the long term.

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