First Impressions Mean Everything

It turns out the first impression your business makes on consumers may be the only impression you ever get a chance to make.

Studies have shown that first impressions are actually more powerful than previously thought.  It’s possible our brains are actually wired so that the first impression made upon us by others actually become self-fulfilling prophecies.

One such study was done by psychologist Nalini Ambady.  During her time at Havard, she performed an experiment to examine the effect of first impressions on perception.  In this study, she divided students enrolled in a college class  into two groups.  She showed each group video clip of the professor “in action”.  One group saw clips which depicted the professor as cold and uncaring.  The other group saw clips which portrayed the professor as warm and caring.  Each student was asked to write an evaluation of the professor after viewing the clip.  Of course, their first impressions of the professor were carefully crafted – and students who were shown one set of clips had a distinctly different first impression that the group shown the second set of clips.  The students in both groups then took the class with the professor in question.

I wanted to believe that once the students EXPERIENCED the professor’s teaching firsthand that they would then be able to form an “accurate” opinion.  I wanted to believe that Instead of the carefully crafted first hand impression they had formed based on watching a few brief video clips, the students would end the class seeing the professor for who and what he really was.

However, that’s not what happened in the study.  Instead of the students revising their original first impressions based on first hand experience, they instead fiercely clung to their carefully orchestrated first impression.

At the end of the semester – the students who saw the videos depicting the professors as warm and caring still described him as warm and caring.  Those who began the semester thinking the professor was cold and uncaring ended by describing the professor as cold and uncaring.

This study – and several others that followed – seem to illustrate this disturbing fact:

The first impressions actually become self-fulfilling prophecies.

This study shows why it’s essential that your business make a good first impressions on consumers.  That’s one of the reasons business blogging is becoming such a powerful force for businesses big and small.

When you begin blogging for your business – it gives your business an opportunity to “speak” in a warm and caring manner.  You can influence consumers by “speaking” in a warm, caring voice via your blog.  You can write to address their problems and provide answers.  You can carefully craft the first impression your business makes on consumers.

So often, small businesses craft their web site trying to appear “cold and uncaring”…. a.k.a. “professional”.   I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with a static web presence that has a professional appearance – but the real question is –

Is that what consumers want when they visit your web site?

Your professional static web site may offer basic information consumers need – but chances are they need more.  They need a carefully crafted first impression maker which casts your business as the problem solver they need.

That’s the type of first impression your business blog can make.

Your business blog can do more than your static web site because it can tell daily, weekly or monthly stories of how others have used your products/services to conquer evil and save the world.

Maybe your stories won’t be Star Wars epic and grand – but you get the picture.

Your business blog can share real life customer testimonials – via the written word, via audio or even via video.  As you create those stories and share those testimonials – you’ll find that your business blog begins to almost magically begin attracting visitors who were searching for “keywords” contained within those stories.

That’s a “warm and caring” first impression every business owner should be striving to make.

Social Media’s Role in Branding

Before social media, branding was the buzzword of the marketing and advertising industry.  Like social media today – many in the “biz” were familiar with the term branding – but really didn’t “get” what it was really all about.  As a result a lot of “noise” has been made about branding which focuses upon the choice of colors, logo or other visual elements used in marketing.   But branding is so much more than just the visual packaging of your business or even your business name.  While the name and the visual elements are a way to quickly communicate the “core” or DNA of your business to consumers who don’t know you yet – your true BRAND is built through interaction with your customers.

I’ve always said that branding is not something you do to your business – but rather it’s something your customers do to your business.  Just as a calf does not control the hot metal which sears a symbol into it’s flesh – your company’s brand is controlled consumers.  This is why focusing upon the consumer and striving to meet their expectations is the foundation of branding.  Social media gives businesses a way to make that connection – to collect that information – and to actually see your business from the consumer’s point of view.

Peter Drucker was a self-described “social ecologist” whose insight helped to build some of the most successful companies in the world including General Electric, Coca-Cola, Citicorp, IBM, and Intel. Drucker attempted to unveil some of the “mystique” surrounding branding,

“Suppliers and especially manufacturers have market power because they have information about a product or a service that the customer does not and cannot have, and does not need if he can trust the brand. This explains the profitability of brands.”

According to Drucker – the essence of branding is building trust and long term business profitability ultimately depends upon building trust with consumers.  Branding is all about building trust with consumers.   When consumers can trust you – they’re more likely to buy from you.  Social media provide the communication tools necessary to engage consumers and build that trust.

The process of building trust with consumers used to be as mysterious and abstract as quantum mechanics.   Companies had no way of knowing whether they had made a “connection” with consumers other than to watch for the cash register to tally up another sale.    Social media is providing revolutionary insight into this once obscure concept but  it’s increasing the importance of actively striving to build trust with consumers as well.

Blog posts and building trust with prospective customers

In Blogging, Authority and Trust I talk about how in order to gain access to a prospective customer’s emotional triggers you have to engender a level of “trust” with a prospective customer or client.   That level of trust begins as “trust” and can grow into “authority” with time.

In “Trusting your Gut“I shared the word picture which illustrates how the whole process of building trust works. Now I’d like to illustrate the role trust plays in social media marketing by sharing a recent person experience on how a single blog post – and the comments approved on the post – worked to build – and then destroy – the elements of trust needed to make a sale.

I was searching for software which would automate a task I perform in my business.  Since I’m going to be asking this piece of software to eliminate the need to hire an employee – I know it’s not going to be freeware.   I entered the keywords to describe the software into Google and -not surprisingly – one of the first results returned was a WordPress blog post.  In the post, the author asked his readers to share what software solutions they had used to solve the same problem I’m having.  The blog post had almost 60 comments by the time I arrived and I had high hopes that I would quickly and easily discover the software I needed.

At this point, my trust account balance with this blogger is low.  However, I’m willing to give this blog author the opportunity to earn my trust.  After all – his post is appearing first in Google, it appears he talks about issues affecting my business.

The post itself was basically fluff  – asking readers to submit the solutions they had found. I didn’t mind this – as a matter of fact, I was happy to see it.  It’s great to see how others are solving this apparently common problem.

The first few comments were apparently authentic- each of which acted like a deposit into the newly opened trust account.  Most of the authentic comments on the blog post fell along the lines of “I still use pen and paper to perform this task.”  UGH!  That’s what I’m doing now.

Notice that these are what I call the authentic responses because it was obvious that these were real readers with real businesses.    Unfortunately,  there were only about a dozen “authentic” responses – followed by about four dozen “inauthentic” responses.

There were several comments which looked authentic at first glance.  They included a photo gravatar combined with a first name – like “John” – followed by a comment which went along the lines of “we looked long and hard for an easy to use, intuitive software program to handle these tasks and were delighted to find [insert software name here].”  The comment then went on to describe the software’s benefits in glowing terms.

The problem with “John’s” comment and many others began with a simple hyperlink.  See, one way a reader “gauges” the authenticity of a comment is by following the hyperlinks in the comment.  In the case of these inauthentic “shill” comments,  when you clicked on the link to see if you could “trust” the glowing recommendation.  – surprise surprise -you would find the hyper linked went directly to the website selling the software program described in the comment.

Congratulations “John” – you garnered some weak link juice and lost the opportunity for me to even download a trial version of your software.

John and several others were obviously shill posting as a satisfied customers promoting their software solution via this blog post. This may be what some people call “social media marketing” but it’s really just spamming the comments of blog posts by posing as a satisfied customer.   It’s yet another example of a blunder in online reputation management – one that can’t be easily erased.

The moral of this story is that several software developers who tried to promote their products via shill comments lost the valuable opportunity to be “authentic” and showcase their software product to a prospective customer who was actively researching a purchase.

Instead of leveraging the power of a blog post with a #1 SERP on a valuable – albeit long tail – keyword term to capture high quality sales leads by leaving an authentic blog comment – a surprising number of software developers settled for a link with very little SEO value and absolutely no potential for real customer engagement.

This experience illustrates a lot of “blogging truths”….

  1. Leaving thoughtful comments on other blogs which add value to the conversation are a great way to get new readers for your blog.
  2. Finding blog posts which use powerful keyword phrases and leaving authentic comments is a great way to promote your product or services.
  3. Trying to “game” social media is a waste of time and energy.
  4. Trust which is quickly earned is fragile – and must be earned over time to fully develop into authority.

The best social media marketing practices begin by recognizing that social media is transparent.  Unfortunately it’s relatively easy to “stand out” from the crowd by simply being honest and telling the truth. In the blog post mentioned above, one software developer was “authentic” in his comment – sharing that he was the developer  and asking for input about his software from readers.

The web is big – and often you’ve got a limited opportunity to engage with a prospective customer.  Why would you waste it by lying and pretending to be someone you’re not?

Trusting your gut….

While building trust and establishing authority is a difficult process to “quantify” and measure –  it’s one of the best reasons to launch a blog for your business.

Years ago, a close friend of mine entered into therapy with her husband to try to save their marriage of 10 years.  Her therapist initially diagnosed the “primary problem”  in their relationship as my friend’s lack of trust in her partner.  The therapist provided her with a powerful word picture which she shared with me.

The emotional trust word picture goes like this:  Trust is like a bank account – when you initially meet someone – the trust balance on the account is zero.  Over the course of time, you make deposits to the account.  Deposits can be small at first – like calling when you say you’re going to call or showing up on time when you have a lunch date.  However, just like money – small regular deposits can add up quickly to create a sizable balance in the trust account of a healthy relationship.

Withdrawals from the account in this word picture are made when one party asks the other to take a leap of faith.  For example, in my friend’s case – when her husband called and told her he was working late – he was making a withdrawal from her trust account with him.   My friend’s counselor painted this picture for her because he believed that she had not been properly “crediting” her husband’s trust “account” and as a result – she didn’t trust that he was indeed working late as he claimed.

Hindsight is always 20/20 – and it turned out that my friend’s “trust accounting system” had been spot on. Shortly after sharing this word picture with me, my friend’s husband announced he wanted a divorce and revealed that he had been involved with a co-worker for over a year.  My friend’s gut instincts about his late night work sessions had been right on target all along.

While the therapist missed the mark in the above situation (caused by believing the narcissistic lying sack of sh*t to whom my friend was soon freed from the bonds of not so holy matrimony) his word picture about how building trust works is right on the money and one that every business owner who is considering using social media marketing needs to keep in mind.

When a prospective customer finds your blog post,  the balance of their trust account with you is low.  You begin making “trust deposits” immediately with seemingly simple details like the theme you choose.  However, the best way to quickly build the balance in the trust account quickly is to provide access to LOTS of high quality and relevant information.

Which is why a blog with a hundred or so blog posts is a great trust building tool for your business.  When prospective customers discover the first blog post about your product or service – they can dig deeper and learn more by simply reading other blog posts you’ve written.  When you create blog posts from questions asked by potential customers via email – it’s a powerful way to build a library of informative business building blog posts.  While fellow bloggers – who are the ones most likely to leave comments on your blog posts –  may find your blog posts “redundant” – prospective customers who are finding your blog for the first time won’t see redundancy but rather lots of valuable information they need to know to make a decision about whether or not to give your products and/or services a try.

Next – I’ll share a customer’s eye view of the whole “trust building” process and demonstrate how a blog post can serve as a powerful trust building tool.

Blogging, Authority and Trust

Dale Carnegie once said,  “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.”

It’s commonly accepted that people buy products and services based on emotional triggers.  Only after the emotional trigger has been pulled will consumers then try to use “logic” to justify the purchase.  That’s why – when you’re writing copy with the intention of “selling” something – you first try to pull the emotional “trigger” and then provide “evidence” to justify the purchase.

In order to gain access to those emotional buttons – it’s essential that the marketing materials engender a level of “trust” with a prospective customer or client.  Sometimes – in the case of minor sales – this level of trust can be achieved quite easily – a professional site design or a BBB label for example.  However, in the case of a major sale – the type of sale that any independent service professional is making –  achieving that level of trust can only be achieved by providing lots and lots of “evidence”.

One of the reasons blogs are powerful business building tools is that they offer quick, easy and lasting communication.   One of the most potent uses of a blog is creating authority.  In that post, I defined authority as trust + power… the power to motivate people to take action.

Adam Singer writes in his blog post Influence, Trust And Authority

Trust is a gray area to measure using quantitative metrics.  Measuring an idea as subjective and nuanced as trust is difficult because you can never escape the simple fact that trust is relative.  Someone may have a personal blog with only 20 readers, but those 20 readers soak in every word and trust the author deeply, taking any calls to action suggested and studying each word carefully.  That person may be more trusted by their small, but loyal following than far more popular bloggers with greater numbers.

In his example, Adam is showcasing a common scenario in the world of business blogging where a “small time” blogger has engendered a high degree of “authority” with a relatively small audience.

In the post “Trust is not Transitive”  I wrote about how it takes quite a while to build trust and how trust is not easily transferred from one person to another.  While Andy Beards’ readers trusted him – they weren’t ready to instantly “trust” some of his recommended resources.  Andy had achieved a level of “trust” with his extensive blogging audience – and when he used his blog to sell his products and services – his audience was responsive.  However, when Andy began recommending other resources – his readers did not respond.  Andy had achieved “trust” with his readers – but hadn’t reached “authority” status with his readers.

Building a level of trust that is transitive is what I refer to as “authority” – the ability to recommend products and/or services beyond your control and have your audience act upon your recommendation.

Cath Lawson demonstrates just such “authority” in her post about making money online by selling what you know.  In her post, she not only promotes her own ebook  Write an Ebook in 7 Days – but she also promotes the ebooks of other authors as well. In our whole “trust vs authority” example – Cath’s post will effectively “sell” her ebook to readers with whom she has established a certain level of trust.  Meanwhile, Cath’s post will sell the ebooks of other authors to readers with whom she has established authority.

That’s an important distinction which  the “get rich quick with blogging and promoting affiliate links” gurus frequently overlook.

In order to sell the products and services of others with your blog, you need to establish a level of trust known as authority.

Eric Holmlund has clearly demonstrate the power of how powerful blogging authority can be in his post “Am I liable for this – you be the judge“. Eric shares an email he received from a reader who hired a copywriter – Nicolas Cole – based upon Eric’s recommendation in an earlier blog post.  Long story short – the copywriter didn’t deliver and the reader was asking Eric for a refund, because after all – he wouldn’t have hired Nicolas had Eric not recommended him on his blog.

When I first saw the post  – it had over 700 comments.   Forty eight hours later, that number had grown to over 900 and when the dust settled the number of comments had grown to over 1000.   Imagine having hundreds of prospective clients gathering in one place to debate whether or not someone who recommended your services should offer a refund because you didn’t deliver.  Talk about an online reputation nightmare in the making!

However, beyond what was happening to Nicolas Cole’s online reputation – notice how the reader hired Nicolas and paid him over $1300 to write copy based solely upon Eric’s recommendation .  Whether you think Eric was liable or not – the reader obviously felt enough of a connection with Eric to act upon his recommendation without further research. This is an clear illustration of the power of authority. Eric built a such a connection with a virtual stranger powerful enough that when he recommended a copywriter – the reader hired him and paid him over a thousand dollars to retain his services.

You don’t build that kind of a connection with strangers in a few blog posts.  It takes time and it takes consistency.  Eric has been blogging regularly since 2006 and this particular recommendation was from a post dated October 2009 which Eric then went back and revised.

Creating authority with your business blog does NOT happen in the matter of a few posts but it does happen.  It begins by creating a level of trust with your readers – and then slowly but surely progresses to a level of authority.  By the way, that kind of trust is only created when you overcome your business fear of sharing.

Only when you’ve created trust with your readers will they open themselves up enough to allow you to pull the emotional triggers which encourage them to purchase your products or services.   If your marketing efforts are falling flat – it’s time to take a good hard look at whether you’re doing what it takes to establish trust with your target audience.