What’s different about Credibility in today’s marketplace?
By Todd Smart and Michael Lovas
Although the basic factors that influence the perception of credibility have remained constant, there are some important new variables at play. Let’s take a look at what’s different in this new, fast-paced, information-rich world we’re operating in, right now.
Massive information volume makes it difficult to know who to trust and believe
Our world today presents us with a vast amount of information to sort through. Included in that data dump is an army of self-proclaimed experts and no easy way to discern who is an expert and who isn’t. The natural outcome is that people “filter.” A traditional trusted brand, a published book, or the word of a friend or colleague enables the company/person to get past these natural filters. Your target market is using filters to find the right company to trust and do business with. Your job is to recognize the sorts of filters people are using to make decisions, then leverage them in your credibility strategy.
What “other (credible) people” say becomes a critical decision influencer
The opinions of trusted advisors and influencers have long been an important influence in how people perceive companies and individuals. Since most of professionals don’t have the time or bandwidth to adequately research markets, firms or products, we’re forced to trust other people to help us sort through the sea of information. Where do they go? Who do they turn to for clarity?
In the past, it was the expert reviewer, market analyst, or journalist. Today, it is vastly different; the most influential “other person” is someone much like you. We humans have always listened to the experience of our peers. What’s different today is the access we have to peers. It’s no longer just one or people in your immediate circle. Rather, the web gives you access to a seemingly unlimited number of people who have personal experience with the person, firm or product you’re interested in.
Whether it’s choosing the right vendor or partner to supply specialized services, or purchasing a new flat screen TV, people look to other people like them, to learn from their personal experiences. This suggests that in your own firm, it might be a good idea to make sure the perceptions you’re giving to customers is exceptional.
Communication is instantaneous
With email, blogs, dynamic web sites, the speed of communication has increased tremendously. News of a company’s faux pas hits the web instantaneously – long before the company has a chance to prepare its response.
Travesty – it doesn’t matter whether the information is true or not. Case in point – In October 2008, an erroneous Web report saying founder and CEO Steve Jobs had suffered a heart attack sent Apple shares down sharply. The posting, made on iReport, a user-generated content site run by CNN, said, “Jobs was rushed to the ER just a few hours ago after suffering a major heart attack.” Because iReport was associated with the credible CNN brand, the “news” got scooped up by other news channels and quickly made its way to traders who sold off shares taking the stock from $105 to $94 in a matter of minutes. The report was false, but the damage had already been done.
Organizations have less control over the message
As long ago as ten years, a firm could exercise complete control over every outbound message. Advertising, marketing and PR departments toiled late into the night perfecting their messages. Each detail was proofed and approved by multiple layers of management.
While those activities still go on today, and the firm has control over its own outbound messages, it has zero control over messages initiated by other sources. Those sources vary from satisfied customers to disgruntled ex-employees to unethical competitors.
As a business leader, isn’t it your responsibility to explore those uncontrolled messages and establish a plan to deal with them?
Transparency is demanded
Transparency has long been an important element of credibility. Credible companies are more open and honest. They don’t bury things in the fine print or speak out of both sides of their mouth.
What’s different today is the increased importance of transparency. The subprime slime and financial meltdown of 2007-2008 brought with it a heightened awareness of the need for more transparency. Although the financial industry bore the brunt of the backlash about lack of transparency, experts agree it became more than just a financial issue, as it now affects all industries and all companies.
Today, companies are expected to be more transparent about their financials and their activities both inside and outside the organization. Transparency has become the standard, rather than the exception. Investors, partners, potential employees and the public in general not only expect transparency, in fact they demand it.
Attempts to manipulate public opinion can backfire
Some companies are wisely taking advantage of social media but at the same time using it in a disingenuous way. A viral campaign by computer maker Lenovo aimed at promoting its laptops flopped when Internet users realized that what appeared to be a Web posting from someone looking for a real person whose photo he had taken (the “red laptop girl,” an attractive young woman usually pictured toting a red Lenovo IdeaPad) was in fact a corporate promotion. The campaign attracted a lot of discussion, most of which was negative. The public saw through Lenovo’s attempt to deceive and made sure everyone knew the truth.
Trust signals have changed
We place this post script about Trust here because in many ways it is the puzzle that you must solve before you can create a valid image of yourself or your firm as credible.
Trust is even more important today. As consumers, we trust different people and sources to guide us in our search for people, firms and products to trust. As business leaders, we need to identify those sources and include them in our communication strategies.
As Chris Brogan said in his book The Trust Agents – The basis of trust is still the same; it’s the signals that have changed. Having credibility is a major factor, but credibility is established through what other people think.