Edited March 2020.
Now, more than ever, it’s imperative that your business considers how it addresses its image and messaging via the power of public relations. The internet has brought a great, sweeping change in the way we receive and absorb information. It affects everything, from how we shop or stay up-to-date, to how we keep in touch with loved ones. But with all the good, technology has shifted our views on the concept of “news,” authority figures, and the companies with whom we do business. By being proactive, you can create trust in your company so that if and when a story hits, you control the spin—good, bad, and indifferent.
Politics has polarized a nation, and the impartiality of the major media outlets—the holy grail of journalistic integrity—has come into question.
Trust is faltering.
The Edelman Trust Barometer 2019 shows trust in the media is at an all-time low. With the rise of the citizen journalist—people who post viral content when they’re in the right place at the right time—it’s possible for anyone to post newsworthy content. Some have taken advantage of this to disseminate “fake news” and less savory content with the intent to make money on high numbers of website hits.
Politics has polarized a nation, and the impartiality of the major media outlets—the holy grail of journalistic integrity—has come into question. News is a commodity, handled by spin doctors who desire to shape the stories and therefore the public’s perception of reality. To many, media outlets can no longer be trusted to report just the facts, especially when “alternative facts” has become more than a catchphrase.
The same can be said of corporations. Industry lobbyists have long been considered slick, smooth-talking politicians themselves, intent on keeping the government from interfering in business, even when that interference is designed with public safety in mind. When the public feels their government has sold out to Wall Street or special interest groups in favor of business over public safety and security, trust in authority wanes. We blame corporate greed for a myriad of problems. And when they aren’t at fault, we look to lawmakers. The one thing designed to keep those in authority honest, the media, has become another conglomerate cog in a big PR machine.
How do we bridge the gap?
It’s not just in our news and our politics. Reviews on sites like Amazon, Best Buy, and Walmart are constantly exposed to be faulty. These site features are designed to inspire trust, and yet the scammers have found ways to game the system. When Amazon plugs one hole to stop the erosion of trust, another scam comes along. Yelp has an algorithm designed to prioritize legitimate reviews and suppress ones that have sketchy qualities, or remove them altogether.
How does a business gain a consumer’s trust in such a time?
Tell your customers your philosophy, and then do business that way. A company that says they’re all for protecting the environment, but then puts out products that contain harmful substances, or manufactures or farms in a harmful way will not have customers who also care about saving the planet. If you have a cause, be open about it, and be open about how you participate in that cause.
Tell your customers your philosophy, and then do business that way.
Transparency can also be as simple as good communication with customers. If you can’t answer a customer’s question right away, tell them that. “I don’t have that answer, but if you’ll give me a little time, I can find out for you.” Honesty about what you can and can’t do goes a long way. Showing your customers that you’ll stick with them, whether you know the answer or have to research a little to find out, gives them real, viable action on your part that you care about their needs.
Train for it.
One of the more frustrating things as a consumer is reaching a customer service agent who hasn’t been well-trained in their job, who relies on set speeches to relay information and cannot answer even the most basic questions. As a business owner, whether your people are answering phones or emails, they should be able to do so in an articulate way. Service agents confident in their ability to help customers speak clearer, articulate well, and enunciate. A bunch of “uh’s” and “um’s” makes it sound like your people don’t know what they’re doing and they’re buying time to figure out how to get out of answering tough questions.
At the end of the day, consumers buy products and services to fill a need that makes their lives better, whether it’s calling in a plumber or buying a movie to stream.
Training your people comprehensively gives them the ability to help customers without all the false starts and uncertainty. When your people know their stuff, they spend less time reaching solutions and delivering answers to customers. It’s efficient for both your company’s time as well as the consumer’s, and time is one thing you can’t get back. So saving time can be priceless.
Show your human side.
Corporations are big, impersonal things that are out to make money. It’s okay to let your personality show through in your business. It’s part of connecting with your target audience, telling them you understand their needs. At the end of the day, consumers buy products and services to fill a need that makes their lives better, whether it’s calling in a plumber or buying a movie to stream. They want to unclog a drain so they can shower. They’ve had a hard day and want to lose themselves in some entertainment.
We have likes and dislikes, good days and bad, and if your business is there to ease some of the bad or enhance the good, show your audience you get it. Connect with them as a person first, and then the rest will follow.
Give value away.
Although giving sample sizes of products, like Sephora has done for years, allows your customers to try before they buy, and is another trust builder, we’re not suggesting you give away your goods and services. But giving away knowledge is just as powerful. You’re an industry expert, no matter your industry. Financial advisors can give away valuable tips on ways to save money. Landscapers can give away advice on how to keep your yard from becoming overgrown. Writers can give away their secrets to creating worlds through tried and true methods of outlining.
Does any of that directly lead to sales? Maybe, maybe not. But the people who find the information useful will know they can trust the person or business who’s given that advice away for free. The businesses also get the opportunity to prove themselves knowledgeable in their field. So if the new homeowner doesn’t have all the yard implements necessary to clear a pile of brush on the corner of their new house, they’ll know that landscaper knows what they’re talking about, and maybe they’re not too expensive to hire.
It’s all about bringing it down to the people level. The Edelman Trust Barometer details that trust in “the media” is at an all-time low, but trust in “my media” has actually risen. This is because people are skeptical of the bigger picture right now. But the places where they learn information, the people they seek out to follow on social media or watch on TV, those are the ones they’ve come to believe in. They have experience with them. Prove your validity through transparency, know-how, and most of all, willingness to help, and the trust will follow.