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.

Treating people like people

When you start treating people like people, they become people.  ~Paul Vitale

Social media is becoming a force to be reckoned with in the world of business. The consumer controlled conversations happening online are literally reshaping the way brands are perceived.  Consumers have more power today than ever before in history.  You’d think that would be a good thing.  You might even think that everyone from marketing managers to CEOs would be mining those conversations to get a “ground zero” view of how their brand is perceived.

Instead a common reaction to this burgeoning phenomenon – other than the popular ignoring it and hoping it will go away – is to try desperately to depersonalize social media which  is – by nature – a truly personal phenomenon.

Figures Lie and Liars Figure

One way to depersonalize social media is to focus upon the stats.  Make sure you only pay attention to statistics that can be easily imported into impressive PowerPoint graphics like graphs and pie charts.    Focusing on visitors, RSS subscribers and comment numbers is a great way to depersonalize your blog.

The bean counters in companies love stats – and quit honestly statistics have value – but allowing statistics to take center stage is a great way to depersonalize your social media presence.

One of the first places I start when I work with a client is to get a handle on the “stats” of their web presence.  I once had a client who had a 75% sign up rate for her email newsletter who contacted me because she wanted to change the copy one her web site to “improve” her newsletter sign up numbers.  Instead of changing her copy – we took a look BEHIND the stats.  She wasn’t getting a lot of traffic to her site – but the traffic she was getting was tightly targeted and very interested in her products and services.   The stats in this case gave us an opportunity to dig deeper – and discover what the “real” problem was.

The “real” problem – by the way – was that she had been making the rounds of the “internet marketing gurus” who were promising her quick, exponential, sustainable and profitable business growth.  (The preceding statement is an intentional oxymoron.  No morons were harmed in the creation of that statement.)

By digging into the “stats” – we could see that she was on track to create slow but sustainable and profitable growth.

Bots – Bots – Bots

Another way to depersonalize social media is to employ bots – automated programs which are poor attempts at mimicking human behavior.  Bots can be do -gooders.  Without bots you’d have no way to find the content you want on the trillions of pages available online.  However, bots can be evil.  Bots are why you have to enter characters displayed in an image to access content across the web.

In the early days of social media – you could purchase a bot program which would automatically go through and “befriend” people on MySpace.  Launch the program today and by next week you could have thousands of MySpace “friends” for your business. The problem with this strategy is that none of those “friends” – none of those connections – were “real”.

Those easily gained connections were great for the stats – they were great for inflating super sized egos – but they were absolutely awful when it came to conversions.

The real value of a blog for your business.

Blogs are great for your business because you can begin composing the never ending story of what your business does for real people.  As you create those blog posts they can actually rise to the top of long tail search queries – you know, the kind of search queries made by prospective customers who are seeking real information before they make an online purchase.

Then – when people who are actually looking for the products and services your business offers can – GASP- actually make a connection with you via your blog.   They can read – and then – they can ask a question – make a comment or even subscribe to your RSS feed to see when you share more information they need to know in order to buy.

So often – in the “web world” – we are guilty of using the term “visitors” or “users” instead of calling them what they really are – PEOPLE. In her blog post The Benefits Of Visualizing Your Future Customers, Cath Lawson shares that visualizing your future customers is a technique used by some of the most successful people in the world.  She points out that by visualizing your customers – as people and not faceless “visitors” – you can begin to shape your business to meet your customer’s needs.  I go on and on about the subject of viewing your customers as people with Goals – Desires – and Problems (GDP) and how to create marketing messages which speak to your target audience’s GDP in my book Beyond the Niche: Essential Tools You Need to Create Marketing Messages that Deliver Results.

You can’t expect a mindless bot to generate an insightful diagnosis based on a simple log file analysis.  However, when you start treating social media like it’s powered by people – people who want real connections – you’ll find social media is literally a goldmine of information you can use to connect with customers and build your business.

“insert name here” is not a good beginning….

Social media is about authenticity, transparency and making a real connection.   While we have a multitude of ways to connect and interact today, including Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn – the “original” internet tool for social networking was actually email.  In Social Media is Consumer Controlled Conversations I wrote:

About a decade ago, there was another bright shiny techno-bauble being lauded as the magic marketing technology anyone could use to effortlessly build their business – an online email newsletter.  Just because the hype has moved on doesn’t mean that any of these “past” beauty queens are not still lovely when viewed through the lens of creating marketing magic.  As a matter of fact, none of these technological tools ever officially ended their reign as valuable online marketing tools.   Smart business owners didn’t drop their email newsletter when social media came knocking – they used social media to build their list.

Ah – the email newsletter is still one of the most powerful “social media” tools you can use to build your business.    With that said – an email newsletter that arrives addressed to “insert_name_here” is a shining example of how NOT to run ANY social media marketing campaign.

What makes this even more amusing or sad – depending upon your point of view – is the fact that the email that arrived with that greeting went on to lament how poorly this particular organization’s social networking efforts were performing.

“I wrote a blog post today that expresses my frustration with the recent lack of involvement from our members. I encourage you all to read it as it is very important this message gets across.”

By the way, there was no LINK to the blog post in question within the email – only that we were all supposed to FLOCK to the organization’s blog.

I’m posting my reply here so that perhaps someone can learn from this social media marketer’s mistakes.

Dear Social Media Marketing Wannabe,

It’s sad to see that you are blaming the failure of your half- assed attempts at social media marketing on the members of your organization’s community.

Let’s limit this conversation to the most recent email sent by your organization. I have to tell you that “insert name here” is a terrible way to start a conversation – and that’s what social media is all about – conversation!

I can’t say I was surprised that the email message whichwas addressed to “insert name here” contained a message of frustration because of a lack of involvement from your organization’s community.

Community is more than subscriber numbers – whether it’s email newsletter subscriber numbers, RSS subscriber numbers or the number of Twitter followers you have.

Community means connectivity and conversation.   I know I speak on behalf of other members of the oranization when I say that we’re a busy group.  We need to be reminded that we’re part of your community.  While email communication via a newsletter is by nature one way – it can be a very effective way to remind us of the conversation going on over at the blog.  That’s why email newsletters and blogs go together like peanut butter and jelly – they compliment each other perfectly.

The salutation in this  email tells me everything I need to know about how you view  the members of your “community.”  We are obviously sheep to be herded, shorn and eventually slaughtered.  You’re obviously disappointed that we haven’t been “fruitful and multiplied” – doing the heavy lifting of marketing the organization without so much as an acknowledgment of our first name.

The problem lies in the fact that marketing is not a mindless task – and we’re not mindless sheep.   We’re people.  In your organization’s case, I have ignored your repeated attemtpts to “befriend” me via various social networks.  If you were paying attention – this should have been your first clue that your social media strategy wasn’t making a connection.  I have no idea what your “numbers” are like for the various social media sites – but I’m confident that even if they are impressive – that you’re only building the ILLUSION of community.

Your lack of ability accept responsibility for your obvious social media marketing mistakes is a sign that this blog post will be here long after your organization has closed it’s doors.  I won’t name your organization because I don”t want this blog post to serve as a lightning rod of discontent for your organization.

There’s no way I’d encourage anyone to join your organization.  I wish I hadn’t.

In the end, I’m sure you will blame your “stupid, inept, uninvolved” members for your organization’s eventual demise.   I’ll happily accept full blame.  It is my fault. You entrusted me to market your organization for you and I refused to do so.  I refused to put my reputation on the line for you and I can see my fears were well justified.

Sincerely,

Not just a mindless sheep or a faceless number

Unseen Business Killers

How a common business blogging excuse may be a sign of an unseen killer within your business.

Lately I’ve been inundated with stories of people battling cancer.  One of my friend’s sister was recently diagnosed with the disease and a client’s sister also received this devastating diagnosis.   Then I received news that the outlook isn’t bright for a client of mine who is also battling this killer disease.  While she was diagnosed within a few weeks of my friend’s sister – my client didn’t discover she had cancer until symptoms forced her to see her doctor.  By the time the cancer was causing her discomfort, it had spread throughout her body.

Just as early diagnosis is a key element in treating cancer – it’s also a key to combating a common unseen business killer as well.

Over the past few years, I’ve helped hundreds of client launch blogs to promote their businesses – and I’ve had perhaps just as many if not more decide against launching a blog.  One of the most common excuses I hear is, ” I don’t have time to blog.”

Unfortunately, when the gloves come off – “I don’t have time to blog” is usually exposed for what it really  is – an excuse.

It’s an excuse used to avoid confronting what may be literally a CANCER which may be growing within the belly of your business.   Like all cancers, early detection is the key to an effective cure.

It’s easy to determine if “I don’t have time to blog” is an excuse or a reason.  If you really don’t have time to blog for your business, you can either

  • hire someone to blog for your business or
  • hire someone to assume some of your duties so you can find time to blog.

Nine times out of ten, when this “either or” is presented,  the REAL objection to blogging for business surfaces.  It takes various forms, but it can be “boiled down” to a very simple: “I don’t know what to write about.”

AH -now here’s the REAL reason most business owners aren’t blogging. It’s not a lack of time – but rather a lack of direction.

It makes sense if you think about it.  After all, we human beings always seem to be able to MAKE time to do what’s important.   The working mother who exercises regularly doesn’t do so because she’s got an extra hour not available to the rest of the population – she MAKES the time to exercise.   She does so because she recognizes how important daily exercise it is for her health and her sanity.

If the reason is that you aren’t blogging for your business is that you don’t know what to write about – the answer is deceptively simple:

Simply write about your customer’s GDP.

It doesn’t matter if your a B 2 B or a B 2 C – if you’re in business – you are either helping customers/clients  to

  1. achieve a goal
  2. satisfying a desire
  3. solve a problem

I call this magic triad “GDP – Goals – Desires – Problems.  Pick one -pick two or pick all three as the reason you’re in business and then start talking about it via your blog.

If you find you can’t isolate one of these three reasons for being in business – then chances are you aren’t creating or communicating an effective marketing message for your company.

If you don’t KNOW what goals you’re helping people achieve,

If you don’t know what desires are being quenched,

If you don’t know what problems need to be solved,

Then OF  COURSE you aren’t going to know what to blog about.

This is definitely a case of what you don’t know CAN hurt your business.

If you don’t know which GDP “button” to push – you’re eventually going to find yourself – and your business – in between a rock and a hard spot.

Your business blog could be the greatest business diagnostic tool ever created.

The sheer act of creating blog posts forces you to FOCUS upon prospective clients/customer’s GDP.   If you don’t know your target audience’s GDP – then you know you have a serious problem in your business.

Discovering that you don’t know what your target audience’s GDP is is almost like discovering you have the earliest stages of cancer.  Admittedly, it’s not good news – but it’s news much better delivered sooner than later.

It used to be that it took a competitor who who understands the target audience’s GDP entering the marketplace and inflicting “sales discomfort” to send the average business owner scrambling for a speedy business diagnosis.  Unfortunately, the explosion of social media  has lead to a new “symptom” for the company with a lack of understanding of consumer GDP: customer complaints being shared via social media tools.

There are plenty of reasons to hit the keyboard and start to blog for your business.  Perhaps the best reason to begin blogging is the act of blogging constantly encourages you to focus upon what matters most – your target audience’s GDP.

If the REAL reason you’re not blogging for your business is that you don’t know what to write about – think of it as an early stage diagnosis of a serious problem – one that should be addressed quickly and decisively.