Social media is changing the way organizations engage key stakeholders. Today’s environment of rapid engagement, interaction and accessibility due to social media is unprecedented in public relations history. This has ushered in the opportunity for organizations to listen to audiences like never before, engage in real-time and, most importantly, foster thriving relationships with publics.
Organizations must realize, however, that social media is not just about a platform that provides two-way communication. It’s about credibility.
It can be tempting to focus on extending reach, optimizing posts and igniting social conversations when incorporating social media into public relations strategies. These elements are certainly important in order to run an effective campaign. However, it is equally important to consider the impact to an organization’s credibility based on strategies used.
I recently worked with a colleague to conduct a national study the explored what perceptions the public has of an organization’s credibility based on social media strategies which was published through the PRSA’s Public Relation’s Journal. With over 800 participants in this survey, the findings revealed that organizations can use four specific strategies to help build credibility in the eyes of key stakeholders.
1) Personable Interaction
The most significant category to consider in social media to build credibility is personable interaction. Because social media was originally designed to connect individuals to individuals, the concept of being personable just makes sense. But while it has long been advocated as a strategy to build relationships and engagement, it has not been identified as the key element publics use to assess a brand’s credibility. Organizations need to carefully craft their social media teams and plans to facilitate personable interaction. Failure to do so not only communicates distance or lack of social media etiquette, but also increases the perception that the organization itself is not a credible entity.
Expertise was the second most significant dimension to credibility in social media. Key stakeholders want to engage and interact with organizations they are in relationship with – but they also want to see content that illustrates the competencies and competitive difference. Scholars have recognized the importance of expertise in credibility for decades. But in today’s modern environment, it is easy to overlook the creation of social media content that specifically focuses on expertise. It is, however, a key way that publics determine not only whether a brand is interactive and nice, but also a genuine leader in their specific industry.
3) Invitational Rhetoric
The third area that influences publics’ perceptions of credibility in social media is whether the brand invites conversation. To audiences in social media, conversation is not simply posting a question or inviting feedback through social channels. It’s about purposefully crafting and sustaining two-way dialogue with intent to listen, respond and incorporate the publics’ comments. When organizations leave Facebook comments unanswered, ignore questions on Twitter, and disregard mentions or feedback on Instagram, it does far more damage than breaking down lines of communication. It destroys the perception of the brand’s credibility. While organizations may attribute lack of responses to limited resources, publics perceive the failed communication as a direct indication that the organization is inauthentic in its interest to develop relationships.
Finally, the fourth category to consider is being trustworthy. Similar to expertise, trustworthiness has a rich history in credibility. Many argue that trust will be the determining factor in whether key stakeholders will have a continued, long-term relationship with an organization. With the multitude of organizations engaged in social media, a key differential will be those that publics perceive to be honest, transparent and reliable. In social media campaigns, professionals should consider incorporating content that shows the ways in which the organization has kept its promises, met its obligations and freely shares information on decisions with the public.
While social media campaigns will come in every shape and size, designed for a variety of purposes and goals, organizations will benefit from considering these four dimensions in campaigns. Taking the time to craft content that speaks directly to these areas will build stronger relationships as audiences bolster their perceptions of the organization’s credibility.
Dr. Carolyn Mae Kim, APR, is an assistant professor at Biola University. Her research specialties include social media, credibility and public relations pedagogy. Follow her on Twitter @CarolynMaeKim.