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Social Media Trends

How to Build Trust on Social Media

Social media is a major contributor to the declining trust in institutions. So, how can brands buck this trend by using social media platforms to build trust?

Trust isn’t something that marketers can take for granted. A mistimed post or ill-considered rebrand can easily kill off brand affinity that took years to build. But over the past few years, something has changed - and social media is playing a pivotal role.  

Where people were once inclined to give brands, institutions, and businesses the benefit of the doubt, the opposite is now true. Recent data from the Edelman Trust Monitor shows that distrust is now the default emotion felt by 6 in 10 people globally.  

Why? The past couple of decades has seen a huge amount of upheaval. Growing rates of inequality that took off during the 2008 GFC have created a serious wealth gap, which has only worsened with the COVID-19 pandemic. The general failure of governments to enact meaningful change has badly eroded faith in the establishment - which includes traditional media outlets.

In this uncertain environment, social media has stepped in to fill the void. It’s given people the ability to connect with others who share their concerns and find sources of information that match their worldview - no matter how bizarre.

This isn’t to say that social media is all bad. Yet we find ourselves in a tricky environment where the very same platforms that bring together kitting enthusiasts are also used to mobilise conspiracy theorists with questionable agendas.  

In sum, social media is the very definition of a double-edged sword.

It’s clear that marketers can no longer ignore the role that social media plays in spreading misinformation, even as it assists brands in spreading awareness and connecting with their audience. So, what are the implications for brands using social media?

Thanks to insights collected by Zavy’s sister agency, TRA, we have a very clear picture of what builds brand trust in consumers - and what destroys it.  

Brand trust is built on four key drivers: celebrity, clarity, connectedness, and consistency. By ensuring that all of these drivers are aligned and maintained in your social media strategy, you can increase brand trust and push back against misinformation efforts.

Let’s begin:

1. Use social media to build your brand’s profile

It will come as no surprise that we usually trust the brands we hear the most about. The more celebrated you are, the more likely it is that consumers will consider you in their purchasing decisions.  

One theory suggests that people trust things that are well-known due to so-called ‘expensive signalling’. Put simply, when a brand shows that it’s willing to invest in its image, its products, and the customer experience, this is a sign to consumers that they’re worth paying attention to.

Glossier is one brand that has used expensive signalling to capture attention within the highly competitive beauty industry. Glossier’s minimalist aesthetic and ‘people first’ approach to social media marketing marked them out as a serious contender to legacy department store-based brands. Instead of highly-paid brand ambassadors, Glossier relies on its loyal customers to spread the word online, turning them into one of the sought-after brands by Millennial beauty aficionados.  

The outtake for social media marketers?

Being active on social media and sharing customer testimonials/user-generated content is a confident display of your brand, because it leaves you more vulnerable to negative feedback. A brand that is willing to invest in its profile (and has been investing over an extended period) clearly believes in itself and is here for the long haul, which amplifies brand affinity.

2. Use social media to show you have a vision

Clarity is an essential part of building a cohesive brand. People trust brands with a clear story, a roadmap to success, and the ambition to make it happen.  

While vision has a lot of parallels with brand purpose, it isn’t a static concept. Your brand has to keep looking to the future and show a willingness to evolve in order to stay relevant. Put simply, having a vision of your future makes people feel like they’re in safe hands - so long as you stay aligned with it.

Starbucks become a ubiquitous presence in North America thanks to a compelling vision; to recreate the refined atmosphere of the European coffee house. But this idea has become less cohesive over the years thanks to Starbucks’ expansion into other store formats, such as supermarkets and bookstores. One way that Starbucks has evolved its vision is by using social media to showcase all the places where Starbucks customers consume their coffees, from lakeside retreats to busy city parks - enabling them to bring the coffee house with them wherever they go.  

The outtake for social media marketers?

The job of reinforcing a brand’s vision is often left to T.V. commercials or PR campaigns, yet these are both expensive and passive ways for consumers to engage with a brand’s messaging. Branded social media posts are a powerful tool to keep activating a brand’s vision day after day, at a fraction of the cost. This will help you build trust, so long as you are clear about your destination - not just how you’re going to get there.  


3. Use social media to show you are connected to issues that matter

Connectivity is the third driver is where social media has a big part to play. People trust brands that appear well-connected and knowledgeable about issues that are relevant to their target audience. This might be social or cultural issues or a particular pain point that your customers are experiencing. If people feel that your brand ’gets them’ and what they care about, your trust score will climb significantly.  

Research shows that connectivity is especially important to Gen Z, who showcase a clear desire to be a part of something larger than themselves. According to Edelman’s Gen Z study, 70% of all Gen Zers globally claim to be involved in a social or political cause - and they expect the brands they support to be, too.  

Although not associating itself with social justice issues in the past, Nike made the decision to publicly support controversial athlete and activist Colin Kaepernick as part of its ‘Dream Crazy’ campaign in 2019. While this was perceived by some as a divisive move, Nike’s core customers applauded the campaign and its strong stance against racism, with Nike stock actually rising by 5% in the weeks following the launch.  

The outtake for social media marketers?

Social media is the ideal channel to monitor consumer sentiment and configure new ways of responding directly to comments and concerns, especially when supporting new issues that your audience may not have engaged with before. A well-timed and appropriate acknowledgment of what’s on people’s minds is a powerful way to build trust and make inroads with new segments who might not have considered your brand before.

4. Use social media to show consistency

No one trusts a person who showcases erratic behaviour or inconsistent responses, and the same is true of brands. Consumers get discomforted when a brand changes its visual elements too quickly or launches a product that isn’t in keeping with what its audience has come to expect.

This doesn’t mean that there’s no room for innovation, but that any notable shift in your brand’s positioning should be accompanied by clear messaging on why and how this is taking place.  Social media presents an opportunity for brands to demonstrate consistency and ‘turn up’ in the way that customers expect them to.  

Once famous for steamy photoshoots and its annual fashion show, lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret has faced considerable pressure in the #metoo era to market to the women buying their garments, rather than selling the ultimate male fantasy. Social media has been an invaluable tool to assist Victoria's Secret in subtly tweaking its brand image with more diverse models and user-generated content, while still showcasing the products its audience knows and loves.

The outtake for social media marketers?

Put simply, you need to be the same brand on social media that you are on any other marketing channel you use. The ease and frequency that brands can post on social media make it the ideal place to both maintain consistency and also make gradual changes to your brand image or messaging, which avoids customers being jarred by unexpected changes.  

It’s only right that businesses should feel concerned about the role that social media is playing in the ongoing disinformation war. But brands on social media also need to embrace the role of platforms as contributors to overall brand trust and leverage the unique qualities of each social channel to:

  • Build celebrity and renown with your audience
  • Achieve clarity with your brand’s vision
  • Connect with people on key issues
  • Stay consistent with the brand experience

Want to know more about how social media can strengthen your brand? Zavy exists to help marketers build and position their brands on social media using the latest insights in brand health and performance. Discover Zavy’s suite of analytics tools today.  

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© Zavy 2021
© Zavy 2021