THE BLOG

A Message to Anyone Using Social Media: Trust Is the Key to Positive Relationships and Growth

01/08/2013 03:53 pm ET | Updated Mar 10, 2013

Social media is different than static media, in that social media is a two-way, dynamic communication that builds relationship and engagement. The key word here is "relationship."

All relationships that are positive are built on trust. So for all companies doing anything with social media (especially those that specialize in it, such as Facebook and Instagram, as well as many others whose bread and butter is tied to social media), it's imperative that you don't undermine trust. It's the basis to a relationship with your customers, especially in a world that is social. And of course, trust is earned through values--by delivering on promises, being honest, and having integrity, just to name a few.   

Currently, Facebook is the most recognized social media company. Yet, something Facebook often does is put out a new policy or service, wait for the backlash from customers, and then backtrack and adjust the policy. And, as most people know, Facebook owns Instagram, so it should come as no surprise that Instagram just performed the same act.

Why does Facebook (and now Instagram) do this? They're hoping there is no backlash to whatever they implement so they can get those extra capabilities the policy allows. The driver of this action is, of course, shareholder growth. Because Facebook is now a public company, it needs to increase revenue at a rapid pace. They're facing some steep challenges in that, and they're looking for every way they can to meet shareholder expectations.

With Instagram's recent policy change, it was clear they didn't think about trust or relationships as much as they thought about profitability and what they could get away with.

But that kind of thinking has hurt Facebook more than Facebook even realizes, and it can hurt Instagram just as much. Over the years I've surveyed thousands of users of Facebook and asked, "Do you trust Facebook?" The answer is increasingly, "No." That's not good for any social media company. You can only get away with breeching trust for so long. At some point you're going to pay a big price for your actions.

So my advice to Instagram, Facebook, and all the other companies that have acted first and thought about it later is to switch it around and to think first. Before implementing a change of policy or anything else, ask yourself, "If we implement this change in this way, what happens to trust between us and the people that will be impacted by this change?" If the answer is, "Trust will go down," my suggestion is don't do it in that way.

Instead, tweak it and change it, so that, in your opinion, trust will stay where it is. There is always a way to get what you want and not lose trust. You just have to be a little more creative and think about the situation in a better way and in higher terms.

Of course, if your new policy change will increase trust, openly reward the person who thought of the policy, because you want those kinds of actions and behaviors repeated. If Instagram, Facebook, or any other company that is using social media to have a relationship with their customers can increase trust, those company stocks will do quite well.

Remember, customer backlashes have a higher cost than you might realize. Therefore, my advice is simple: Instead of the typical strategy of "let's do it and see how big of a backlash we get," let's instead ask an anticipatory question to determine how the action will affect trust. Remember, when trust is strong, so are your profits.

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