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Brand Building in Focus: Influencing Reputation with Trust Signals

Carrie MorganBy Carrie Morgan, Consultant, Digital Strategy & Services, Rock the Status Quo

Media lists. Press releases. Bylines. Blog posts. We tend to focus on the tangible outcomes of our profession. They fit into our comfort zone nicely.

They aren’t always what our clients want these days, though, or what is needed to build their visibility. It’s also about the less intangible: digital presence.

Trust, for example. Nothing has the potential to impact trust the way PR can.

Action by Action, Reaction by Reaction

Product reviews, engagement and responsiveness on a Facebook page, technical support and/or customer experiences, looking for something on their website, reading a piece of content, watching a video—each touchpoint we have with a brand leaves a positive or negative.

We react to that impression in some way, either internally or externally.

The more sophisticated we become as consumers and business people, the more important these touchpoints are becoming. It doesn’t even have to be our own touchpoint. We rely on other people’s touchpoints as signals to guide us—mile markers along our journey as customer or part of a brand’s audience.  We base our own impressions on what we see.

Not only that, but our individual impressions collect as a larger audience to form reputation. There’s a direct connection between trust and reputation.

You’d think reputation can only be built by via actual customer experience, right? Wrong.

Reputation can grow by assumptions; assumptions we understand their reputation based on trust signals, just like we comment on Facebook posts after assuming we know what an article says based on the headline.

It’s a potent mixture of fact, opinion and assumption.

We have the power to influence those assumptions.

Collective Brushstrokes

Building trust is a process, like hundreds of tiny brushstrokes on a canvas coming together to form a larger image. Each touchpoint with a brand is a single brushstroke, a trust signal forming a collective impression of trustworthiness.

As PR professionals, we can monitor trust signals as they unfold and influence them to create the kind of reputation we want.

Instead of watching, we can participate.

We can be mindful of the impact our own activities have on trust signals, and create them intentionally.

Common Trust Signals

Reputation is built from a combination of customer experience and trust signals. It’s very difficult for public relations to have a voice in shaping customer experience, but trust signals are an entirely different kind of animal—one we can easily influence.

So what are some specific tactics brands can use to build trust signals?  Here are ten excellent places to begin (or cherry-pick through, depending on your resources). Each trust signal creates:

  1. Answering when someone complains or compliments your brand online.
  2. Building, monitoring and responding to customer reviews.
  3. Sharing honest, authentic answers to questions, instead of dodging them.
  4. Generously giving away knowledge to showcase your expertise.
  5. Creating total clarity around your brand and communications. If you don’t understand it, why would anyone else?
  6. Focusing each effort around a specific audience and message – no more shotgun approaches.
  7. Ensuring your website and content have immaculate spelling, grammar and punctuation. No mistakes!
  8. Join conversations that fit your audience and brand, not just those about your brand.
  9. Create content around your opinions and ideas, not listicles, best practices and regurgitating what everyone else says. Take a stand.
  10. Learn as much as possible about your target audience, so your actions naturally reflect that knowledge. You can’t build trust with your actions if it isn’t aligned with understanding motivations and needs of your audience/customers.

Any interaction with a brand can become a trust signal for those who witness it, not just those directly involved.

It Begins with Brand Clarity

Thanks to social media and the content we consume, we’ve learned to see through those who pump out thinly disguised promotions and assume trust is given automatically, versus those who meet our expectations, providing value and working to earn our trust.

The internet is a rich source of fresh perspectives, opinions and expertise, and we’ve taken full advantage of it to learn and grow. It touches everyone and each action either creates trust, maintains it or destroys it.

You can’t create trust without paying attention to details of the experiences and touchpoint.

How are you creating trust signals?


Top 1% Influencer Carrie Morgan just released her first book: Above The Noise: Creating Trust, Value & Reputation Using Basic Digital PR. Already endorsed by Jay Baer, Chris Brogan, Ann Handley and Mark Schaefer with a foreword by Gini Dietrich, it’s an important read for those struggling to integrate content marketing, SEO and social media into traditional public relations tactics.

Carrie blogs at Rock The Status Quo and leads one of the largest Twitter chats in our industry, #PRprochat, every first Thursday at 3pm ET. She is a digital PR consultant in Phoenix, Arizona.

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