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.

Blogging for Your Business

When I say “blogs” – many business owners start seeing horrible visions in their mind’s eye.   Some see self-obsessed, narcissistic egomaniacs for whom the ultimate goal is fame – or infamy – either one, as long as people remember their name.  Others see blogging as a six inch thick chain, locking them to their computer – forced to compose dozens of blog posts daily without the benefit of spell or grammar check.

However, when I talk about blogging for your business, I don”t see the distorted visions most business owners see.  What I see when I talk about business blogging is a cost effective, powerful and affordable business building tool.

Most of today’s popular blogging software programs began as CMS – Content Management Software.  Their express purpose was to make publishing information to the web quick and easy for those who didn’t want to learn the intricacies of HTML, CSS, FTP and a dozen other alphabet soup web terms which were needed to get your marketing message published to the web not so very long ago.

So when I’m talking about blogging for your business – I’m talking about using software to make it easy to get your marketing message onto the web.    When you see an egomaniac who is using the software for shameless self promotion – your thought as a business owner should be, “If that idiot can operate a blog to get his/her message onto the web – I can use a blog to do something useful – like educate my customers via the web.”

While wild visions of colorful – and sometimes offensive characters – may fill your mind’s eye when it comes to business blogging – in reality business blogging is actually best suited for those with an eye to the future.  Business blogs do a great job of building authority and authority (authority =  trust + power… the power to motivate people to take action.) takes a lot longer to create than a fleeting case of infamy.

Creating a business blog post today takes a certain amount of time – which causes many business owners to join in the battle cry of  I don’t have time to blog.  However, while your blog posts do take some time to create – they continue to live on your blog for as long as your blog is in existence – and sometimes beyond as  it seems the internet never forgets.

Imagine if the radio ad you ran last week could continue to be aired indefinitely – and it only aired when a radio listener announced to the radio that he/she was interested in the products and services your business provides.  That’s exactly the way your business blog posts can work to promote your business.

So when you hear the term “blogging for your business” try to erase from your mind visions of reminiscent of an episode of Jerry Springer – and instead view business blogging through a new lens.  Business blogging is a way for your business to quickly and easily communicate with prospective customers via the web.  The informative blog post you create today will live on to continue working with other blog posts – bringing real customers to your business.  That’s the real beauty of business blogging.

Customer Reviews Set Consumer Expectations

Expectations of your business will literally shape the whole consumer experience for your customers.   This is nothing new. In my post, “Social Media – It’s a Moral Imperative” I wrote about how a movie’s marketing campaign painted an unrealistic expectation of being a comedy – and then delivered scenes of horrific violence and very little “humor”.

The same is true of your business.  Marketing sets expectations.  If you deliver on the promises – if expectations are met – then consumers will be satisfied.  Fail to deliver – and consumers will complain.

While this is nothing new – what is new is that we’re living in a world where communication is lightning fast and ridiculously easy thanks to social media.   This creates a world where your consumer’s unmet expectations (realistic or not) can mean an avalanche of negative online reviews .

Setting realistic expectations of your products and services is essential to your business survival.

I’m seeing a worrisome trend – one which is not only being recommended by various “gurus” but also being practiced by business owners who obviously are not aware of the danger involved.

Many businesses – big and small – are engaging in creating their own “reviews” for their business. One popular info product recommends  this course of action – especially if customers aren’t online actively participating in online reviews.  This popular resource recommends that SEO professionals and business owners go out and actively create the reviews they “know their business deserves” by leaving reviews under pseudonyms.

Here’s the hidden danger with this troubling trend.

Let’s say you’re a physician concerned about your online reputation.  You hire someone to  create 5 star reviews for your practice.  Those fictitious reviews are prominently displayed in your local search listing.

Your multiple reviews make your local search listing tops with Google maps and this begins bringing new patients to your office.  These patients are expecting 5 star service because – after all – that’s what it looks like others have been saying about your medical practice. They’re expecting short waits in the waiting room, they’re expecting considerate, competent staff – they’re expecting the doctor to have a great bedside manner – but when they arrive – that’s not what they get.

Perhaps a “real” review of your office wouldn’t have given your practice five stars on every options.  Perhaps a real patient would have rated your office wait time as “moderate” – but real patients didn’t write those reviews so the new patients who came to your office – expecting a brief stay in the waiting room are now fuming as the minutes tick by and they still haven’t been seen.

Trust me when I tell you…

The online review of the consumer who has been disappointed will be far worse than the authentic review of a dissatisfied consumer.

I’ve observed what seems to be a bit of “social justice” happening on these social media review sites.  It seems that when real consumers encounter exaggerated claims of service and satisfaction – they seem to be motivated to respond.  While my personal evaluation of a particular business may have been a 3 out of five – I’ve seen time and time a glowing 5 star -obviously fictional-  review followed by a scathing 1 star review.  Was the 1 star review accurate?  Probably not – but it seems to frequently be issued in response to an undeserved 5 star review.

The worst part about the glowing – but fictitious  – 5 star review is that it unnecessarily sets unrealistic expectations for your product or service.  While a 3 or even 4 out of 5 star authentic review my not be a huge boost to your ego – it is authentic and not only can it serve as useful consumer feedback but it also sets a more realistic set of expectations for your product or services.  This more realistic set of expectations means higher levels of consumer satisfaction which leads to positive online reviews.

After all – authentic online reviews on only a reflection of what is being said about your business in other areas – not only other online sites but offline as well.