In her third monthly column for Hiscox, social media trainer and media expert Sue Llewellyn examines the value of social for building, maintaining and increasing trust.

Who do you trust to do business with and have you ever wondered if people trust you? I’d go so far as to say this is the single most important component of business success, because without trust you have nothing and trust, like respect, needs to be earned.

Last month saw the publication of the 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer, a global survey of 33,000 people in 27 countries, and the headline for business is quite sobering.

Trust is down. Way down. The report stated “Business has lost trust because we don’t think companies are playing fair, especially on their attitude to paying appropriate levels of tax or on how much bosses pay themselves.” But there’s more to it than just attitudes to taxes or salaries at the top.

Credibility of CEOs as spokespeople continues to drop with academic, industry experts or a ‘person like yourself’ being the more credible option. It certainly doesn’t help that the vast majority of CEOs are more or less invisible online, especially on social, and you don’t trust what you don’t see and don’t know.

Use social to its full advantage

63% of respondents said they would refuse to buy products and services from a company they didn’t trust. On the other hand, 80% said that they would buy from one they trusted in addition to recommending those companies to friends. In these socially connected times, this peer influence is critical and positive word of mouth is the most powerful tool in your armory. None of this is really that surprising, especially if you work in the communications industry, but the numbers should give business leaders pause for thought.

The good news for small businesses is that they have something of a trust advantage, but that shouldn’t mean resting on your laurels. Far from it, although I would say this as a social media consultant. Business leaders not only need to “get social”, but to use it in a genuinely social way to capitalise on its advantages.

So, how can you use social media to build, maintain and increase trust?

  1. Don’t be a big-headed bragger

Nobody trusts anyone who bangs on about how wonderful they are and talks about themselves all the time. No business and nobody is perfect, so be honest and be humble. Try harder to be relevant to people, not just to your own marketing agenda.

  1. Don’t just broadcast

Think dialogue not monologue. Listen fast, listen well and then join in with conversations.

  1. Be transparent

Admit your mistakes, show your workings and be prepared to be challenged and accept advice.

  1. Turn employees into advocates

People trust people and your staff are your most important assets. You need to empower them from the start with proper apprenticeships and regular training.  Encourage them to get social and get online to start interacting with customers and the public at large.

Good training, good policies and clear guidelines are essential here so everyone knows where they stand. But if your business/brand has a human face – or multiple faces – then your customers/clients are more likely to trust you and want to do business with you. And when things go wrong, as they inevitably will at some point, they’re more likely to stick with you and forgive you if they feel they have a valuable relationship with you and that you care about them, their family and society as a whole.

  1. Put people first:  your stakeholders, your customers and your community

Focus on what different audiences want and need from you, and put people before profit. Up your customer service priorities so that if someone tweets about or to you, or posts a comment on your Facebook page/blog then respond to them – and do so quickly. People these days expect an almost instantaneous response if they have a question or even more so, a complaint. Nobody likes to be ignored, so make sure you’re listening and that you care. This is especially important out of business hours.  You need to manage expectations, even if it’s just a holding statement to say ‘we’ll look into it and get back to you as soon as possible’. Catching a complaint before the winds of social media fan the flames around the world is easy… if you’re listening.  And if you’re not you’re in trouble.

To build trust, which is essential to success in business, you need to be ready to respond, willing to engage, to collaborate and to modify based on customer feedback. But, above all, be human. Be polite, be friendly, be professional and be yourself and don’t forget to say thank you. Everyone likes to feel appreciated.

Thank you for reading.

You can see more insight from Sue on Twitter @suellewellyn. Read Sue’s previous column on the changing nature of branded shareable content online.

Guest bloggers may post on this site. The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Hiscox or its employees. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within these guest blogs are not guaranteed and we accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations or any liability regarding infringement of intellectual property rights. Our social media house rules which also include details on how to contact us about any concerns you have regarding our social media channels, can be found here.