THE BLOG
01/21/2015 12:22 pm ET Updated Mar 23, 2015

8 Ways to Build Trust on Social Media

There are dozens of factors that contribute to the size, loyalty, and engagement rates of your audience on social media, and whether you're interested in building an audience for a personal brand or a corporate one, improving those metrics is often your key to success. You can objectively measure the number of followers your brand has, and execute strategies that increase that number, but if you want to build an audience that truly cares about what you have to say, you need to go a step further.

Almost every brand in the world has some kind of presence on social media, and individual users are growing tired of being advertised to. If you want to cut through the white noise and earn the attention and interest of your readership, you'll need to build trust.

Building trust on social media, just like in real life, is neither easy nor fast, but with these eight strategies, executed consistently, you can get closer to cultivating a trusting, dedicated audience:

1. Communicate in a consistent, personal brand voice. Step one is very simple. If you want people to trust your brand like a human being (rather than a corporate entity), you have to write in a way that reaches your readers on a human level. Minimalistic, robotic messages have no personality, and such forms of communication can instantly turn off an otherwise interested party. If you haven't already developed a brand voice for your company, spend some time thinking about what key qualities you want to communicate through the tone and word choices of your writing, and practice implementing them through a written voice.

Once you've established a brand voice, you'll need to be consistent with it. If your posts sound perky and casual one day, but formal and stingy the next, your audience could become confused, and start to lose trust or interest in your brand.

2. Make time for humor and entertainment. Most of your posts should be about things happening in your industry, or a showcase of your content marketing strategy. However, it's also important to make time for humor and entertainment. If you find a short video clip on Monday morning that makes you laugh, consider sharing it with your audience (as long as it's appropriate for your brand). Chances are, they'll find it funny too.

Sharing these types of content is a way to lower your audience's defenses, and demonstrate that there is a human being behind all these posts. It gives your brand a fun and trustworthy personality, and lets people know that your main goal is communicating with an audience, not just pushing a product.

3. Post unique, original ideas. Thought leadership is a key quality among trusted brands. On social media, sharing posts is easy and commonly accepted. It would be possible to build up a network of followers simply by sharing or retweeting some of the most popular posts of the moment--but doing so simply turns you into a glorified news feed constructor, and your brand becomes practically invisible, buried in the other brands.

If you want to earn the respect and trust of your audience, you'll need to demonstrate yourself as the trendsetter by posting unique, original ideas of your own. That doesn't mean you can't share other posts for your audience--but do so sparingly, and make sure you prioritize your own original content.

4. Respond to as many comments and questions as you can. Depending on the size and reach of your brand, it might be impossible to respond to every inquiry, but for most brands, it's an easily accomplishable feat. When a user reaches out to you on social media with a comment on one of your posts or a question about your business, it's a demonstration that they're interested in your brand. If you respond to those comments and questions, and respond in a timely manner, you're demonstrating that you hear and care about those comments.

When responding, make sure you fully address the question or comment and don't resort to a formulaic auto-response. Write each response personally if you want to establish trust with your audience.

5. Be transparent. Transparency lets people know that you don't have anything to hide. Obviously, you don't want to reveal everything about your company (such as intimate financial data or internal policies), but taking measures to be open and honest about your company's operation can go a long way for your audience.

It's also a good idea to resist the temptation to delete posts (unless they are offensive to other users). For example, if a follower posts a complaint about your business on your Facebook page, it may be tempting to delete it entirely. However, leaving the post up and responding to it directly is a powerful demonstration that you aren't trying to hide any aspect of your business, and that you listen to your customers no matter what.

6. Hold yourself accountable. No matter what kind of company you operate, bad things will eventually happen. You might miss a deadline, mess up a shipment, or have a board member indicted for a crime. No matter what kind of negative news comes up, hold yourself publicly accountable on social media if you're interested in building trust.

Instead of trying to cover up the incident, or make excuses for why things happened the way they did, directly acknowledge the root causes of the incident, and honestly clarify any details about the situation. If you can make it up to your followers in some way, either individually or as a group, do so. It's a display that you acknowledge your mistakes and do whatever it takes to correct them.

7. Don't advertise. Social media marketing is a misnomer, because if you only use social media for marketing, you'll alienate your entire audience. Avoid the temptation to advertise to your audience directly--the minute your followers feel as though they are being advertised to, they will lose trust that you have their best interests at heart.

The right way to market on social media is to give some sort of value to your audience--offer them a promotional rate, highlight a product with a free giveaway, or answer inquiries with direct links to relevant products and services. If you make your goal providing value to your customers, and not just selling to them, the trust will come naturally as a result.

8. Commit to a greater good. Corporate social responsibility is a great way to increase the perceived value and ethics of your brand, and social media is the perfect channel to let your audience know about it.

Don't go out of your way to brag about your efforts, since doing so may turn your customers off, but don't be afraid to make mention of any charitable or volunteer initiatives you've taken, especially in the local community. Frame it as a way to encourage your audience to make their own charitable contributions. Doing so not only builds trust, but also cultivates more charity and volunteerism from your audience.

Followers don't become trusting overnight. It takes commitment to see results. But if you can establish a mutually trusting relationship with your audience, your posts will have a greater impact, your followers will be more likely to stick with you, and ultimately, you'll have a far better chance at converting those followers into long-term, paying customers.

For more insights, strategies, and tactics on social media marketing, grab my eBook, The Definitive Guide to Social Media Marketing.