The difference between building traffic, and building trust.

These days it seems companies are jumping on the Facebook and Twitter wagons like lemmings. And usually with the same disastrous outcome. (Can we really keep referring to such dated things as a wagon? Maybe it’s time to start calling it the band-hovercraft??)

Building community through online technology isn’t as simple as “hey, I think I’ll throw a party for my 500 closest friends.” Sometimes you have to step back and assess what it is you’re really trying to accomplish.

Are you trying to convert 500 strangers into friends of the brand? Can you really pull off something that will compel and entertain everyone equally? Maybe it would be wiser to start smaller. Perhaps a dinner party where you can try out your recipes successfully before booking that assembly hall or stadium.

Sure, every business wants to open its doors (brick & mortar, web, even social networking) and see throngs of customers clamoring to get in. But what kind of relationship are you trying to build? Do you want thousands who might come through the doors in the first week, most of whom only browse? Or would you rather have fewer clients that not only purchase, they come back for more? Sure, it’s not an either/or situation. But so often, businesses put so much effort into getting a relationship off the ground they forget that, to create loyalty, you have to put in just as much effort to cultivate your tribe. If you don’t, your loyal followers can quickly become strangers, or worse, enemies.

Technology can definitely help build an audience. But it can’t always build trust. Take, for example, the buzz created by “Jenny” who posted her resignation online using a dry erase board. People were so amazed by her chutzpah and technique that mentions (and tweets) were flying all over the web. In a matter of days, this story was everywhere. What most of us caught up the frenzy didn’t realize initially — it was all a publicity stunt. Imagine if a company launched a new product with as much buzz and fanfare, only to have consumers realize it was all a hoax? Is that the kind of exploitation of technology you think works for your brand?

Sure, it’s easy to become intoxicated by a sudden onslaught of traffic. But when you rely on a stunt rather than a well-thought out plan (social or otherwise), where will you be when the masses pull a mass exodus because they no longer trust you or your products? Go this route and you’ll spend more time doing damage control than more productive things like, oh, cultivating brand evangelists.

Unfortunately, some businesses think they need to do something so buzz-worthy to generate interest that they don’t realize the best results are nurtured over time. It’s important to remember that you’re not just putting your brand into the hands of your consumers, you’re also building trust. And sometimes, technology like Facebook and Twitter might not be the best way to do it.

What it takes is a thorough assessment of communication goals, and then determining the best course of action to take. You have to first know whom you’re trying to reach, and then figuring out the best way to get your message out to the right audience using the right outlet. Even if that outlet is Facebook. Or a dry erase board.

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