Monday, July 28, 2008

Building Trust: Our Clients’ Biggest Challenge

Consider the following facts:
  • According to an article on The Professional Network, when it comes to trust, consumer-generated media consistently outranks professional sources.

  • For the second consecutive year, “a person like me” (i.e., a peer) is the most trusted spokesperson in the U.S. (at 51%) and across North America, the European Union and Latin America. (In Asia, it’s second only to physicians.)

  • Rank-and-file employees are more trusted than CEOs by opinion leaders in the U.S. and the three largest economies in Europe (the U.K., France and Germany).
So, how does one maintain a sterling reputation in this increasingly democratic world in which your reputation is in the hands of literally millions of people, both inside and outside the corporation?

1. Outreach. Public relations has not traditionally capitalized on one-to-one outreach, but the best defense is a good offense. We really need to ramp up our outreach efforts. And we shouldn’t confine our activities to the internet. A couple of years ago SAP invited a group of independent enterprise bloggers to attend a conference, spent up-close-and-personal time with them and treated them as if they were valued members of the mainstream media. It paid off big time … in stronger relationships, positive coverage and lots of good will. We need to multiply that model.

2. Feedback. We also need to figure out how we know what’s getting across. This means establishing an elaborate, sophisticated feedback system. Our business needs to emphasize this area since the majority of companies have traditionally invested minimally in feedback mechanisms. Nevertheless, there are many useful metrics. Blog monitoring is just one example … and it’s one that is surprisingly underemployed.

My firm undertook a study in 2006 which revealed that that only 20% of Fortune 1000 companies had a blog monitoring system in place. Today, according to research from Aberdeen Group, 65% of best-in class companies have a formalized process for monitoring the social or consumer-generated media. In fact, best-in-class companies are 680% more likely than poorer-performing companies to monitor the social media.

3. Infiltration. Identify your adversaries and answer the questions they’re likely to ask — before they even think to ask them. I learned this lesson many years ago, as an account executive. The client, a leading Michigan based utility, faced opposition from the minority community on a proposed rate hike. We analyzed the organizations that represented the greatest challenges and identified and trained employees to join these organizations, and then to answer member questions … thus building bridges and making allies before the critical vote. We won.

4. Organization. Public relations (within a company) may need to be a bigger, more loosely structured, decentralized structure, with each person responsible for several key constituencies to dialogue with. Plus, everyone in your “army of light” will need to be intensively trained so that they can embody the corporate values of an authentic enterprise.


Technorati Tags: The Professional Network, trust, reputation, outreach, feedback, blog monitoring, Aberdeen Group, infiltration, organization, consumer-generated media, business, communications, public relations

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