Just how much effort is warranted in promoting your online product or service using social media?  Is there a reason for being consistent and patient or should you be looking for the quick return?  How long is reasonable to develop a new brand online?  One year, two or more?  How many followers should you have?  Does “number of followers” really matter to your business?

How do you build trust online, what actually happens as people move from a follower to actually buy your product or service without even having met you?

Lots of questions!   You might feel you are getting nowhere fast because your followers are not increasing rapidly.  But is this premise true?  Can the usual statistics measure growing trust or are they simply misleading?

What if I told you that you were making steady progress in developing your personal brand and that the number of followers on social media has very little to do with your prospects of selling your product or service?

Conventional wisdom is that a big social media following will increase your chances of winning new online customers.

But today I want to challenge conventional wisdom, so here goes!

VANITY METRICS

There are several metrics that can be used to measure your activity on social media.

  • Number of followers,
  • page views,
  • connections,
  • reach,
  • klout score,
  • fans,
  • size of your subscriber “list”
  • and so on…

I have recently subscribed to several services that help me measure these.  Like any product, many vendors punts their own metric as the most important.

For the record I am actually quite sceptical as to the real correlation between these metrics and business performance.  After all, many successful businesses exist without a blog, without a twitter account and with just a simple web site.  Could it be that they provide enough value that they don’t need to shout about it from the rooftops?

What you measure is what you will improve

Measuring and obsessing on any of the metrics above will result in you working subconsciously to increase your social media score potentially at the expense of focussing on how you actually add value.

Please don’t misunderstand me, metrics are not necessarily all bad.  You need some indication of progress and you need to measure this.   Measuring financial performance in a business is the ultimate proof of this.

Provided you are not fooled into believing that your increased social media score will ever translate directly into business results, then by all means measure and monitor this.

For example, my own goals in this regard by end September 2014 are:

  • 1000 page views per day for each of my 2 websites
  • 500,000 unique website visitors in 2014
  • 1000 twitter followers
  • 400 Linked-In connections

But despite these being stated goals, I always take these metrics with a pinch of salt relative to my other “hard” metrics such as financial performance, products released, number of customers etc.

BEYOND GAINING FOLLOWERS, HOW TO BUILD TRUST

For companies that market exclusively online these social media metrics can be important in measuring awareness.

But awareness is not enough.  You need real leads.  A lead might become a customer.  My assertion is that leads become customers only provided there is trust in the relationship.

If you have 100 leads how can you increase your conversion to 100 customers?  Is effort spent building trust with the 100 not more rewarding for your business than effort spent winning another 100 casual leads?

So lets examine this. How exactly do people experience a growing trust relationship with a person they have only met online through a blog, twitter feed or other digital medium?

In my own experience the process of building online trust clearly follows a sequential and predictable set of steps.  Probably similar to the way relationships are formed in the real world.  I think that if you understand these steps you can optimise the conversion process.

The process is often referred to as “Know, Like and Trust“.  A person gets to know you before they like you, and they need to start liking you before trust is built.

1. “Know” – open your brand account

Initially people start recognising your brand through repeated interactions online in social media or through e-mail etc.  Either by your picture on Twitter or your name or some unique aspect of your personal brand.  These small elements of recognition embed themselves in their memory and as part of forming first impressions they determine if you will be able to add value.

The prospect experiences:

  • An enhanced awareness – you are noticed and stand out above the online noise
  • Impressions of your personal brand – people will look at your “About Page” or your Twitter / Linked-In profile
  • You gain a follower or a subscriber
  • Recognition – people will read your occasional blog post based on previous good experience

In terms of your personal brand,  are you:

  1. Entertaining
  2. Thought Provoking
  3. Helpful (with plenty of “how to” information)
  4. A subject expert
  5. A thought leader or visionary
  6. A pain in the butt

This first phase will take time,  which is why a consistent online presence and activity is vital.  Brand recognition could take months or even years.

2. Transact – through deposits and withdrawals

Each brand account is then built up through small deposits and withdrawals.  These deposits add up over time hopefully to a positive balance.

Should the account be overdrawn, especially in the early stages, the relationship ends,  usually permanently.

Each and every post on social media results in a small deposit or withdrawal.  The size of this transaction depends entirely on value gained or lost.  For example:

  • A helpful blog post that helps a reader achieve something tangible results in a deposit
  • A post that encourages a reader achieve a goal results in a deposit
  • An overpowering “pushy” sales approach results in a withdrawal
  • Bad language or dubious ethics results in a big withdrawal, probably clearing out the account for most readers
  • Blasting your audience with repeated information is going to result in a steadily increasing withdrawal
  • “Time sensitive” special offers that rush you into a poor decision will result in a withdrawal

If the account balance is forced into overdraft the relationship is terminated.  Remember, it is very easy for a prospective online customer to end a relationship by blocking you completely, by unfollowing you, adding your e-mail to spam or “un-liking” you.   Even worse they do this publically explaining to their followers the reasons.

This analogy of an “account” is helpful to me because I believe that without a healthy positive balance you can’t even start developing trust, let alone a meaningful relationship.

Once a healthy balance is in place the prospect has effectively moved to “like” your brand.

3. THE PROCESS OF BUILDING TRUST ONLINE

Now, assuming the prospect likes you and has a healthy positive balance in your brand account,  trust can start developing over time.

The phases in building trust (as I have experienced them first hand) are as follows:

  • Show Interest – prospective fans will start interacting, commenting and contributing to posts
  • Value gained – fans are willing to recommend or endorse, even buy something
  • Intentional relationship building – fans offering value through answering surveys, contributing suggestions etc.
  • Growth in loyalty
  • Human connection – people seek a deeper, more authentic personal connection – “friends”
  • Reward – people are at this stage prepared to volunteer to pay, contribute or assist the relationship without any selfish interest whatsoever

It will be clear that the process as described goes far deeper in terms of human relationship than a follower, fan or subscriber.

Those people obsessed with social media metrics run the risk they get stuck at the follower stage because this is all they measure.  What you measure is what you will improve.

Should you therefore pay attention to your social media metrics?

Yes, I do think so.  But not much.

The real danger is that weak metrics can become discouraging,  especially in the start up stage when you compare your brand to the leading brands in your industry who have thousands of followers.

You need to believe that your potential is far greater than the metrics indicate,  or else you will give up in the early stages.

One loyal fan is worth more than a thousand casual followers.

A prospective customer who is not a follower may now be reading your blog posts and steadily developing trust and making deposits in your relationship account.  You probably won’t know this until they actually step forward and connect.

You might have thousands of potential customers in this awareness phase and not know it.  Don’t give up yet!

My bottom line advice in a nutshell:   Rather than obsessing over metrics spend your time focussing on building long term value and relationships.

This is achieved through consistency, transparency and authenticity.

So when you next post a blog, or tweet, or contribute on Facebook consider how this post will add value to your readers.  And remember that you already have a number of personal brand accounts out there with positive and growing balances.

Ask yourself, will your next post increase or decrease these balances?

I think that if you could measure these balances you would be encouraged.   Unfortunately we simply can’t measure relationships by the traditional social media metrics.