Brand Trust: The Power of Being a Better Neighbor
#BeKind Jason St-Cyr @StCyrThoughts
#BeKind Jason St-Cyr @StCyrThoughts
Welcome neighbors, thank you for those that joined in! It’s great to have you here. You might be wondering what’s with the sweater and all the singing and the Trolley…
I want to talk with you today about Trust. About building a relationship with your audience. About treating others well, and for me, that makes me think of Mister Rogers.
I first tackled this theme at the end of 2019. The world was a different place, and that Tom Hanks movie Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood was about to come out.
And then 2020 happened. It wasn’t a fun nostalgic thing anymore. Transparency, trust, kindness… it was now a business imperative.
Marketing teams needed to re-evaluate how they connected with their audience, how they went about their marketing. Customers have demanded social responsibility, more than ever before.
We all needed to channel a bit of Mister Rogers into our lives, both professionally and personally.
When I was a kid, I grew up with Mister Rogers, and some other great kids programming, but Fred Rogers approached things in a way that felt honest, and kind, and didn’t speak down to children. We got to have fun, but we also learned about the world, the people in it, and how to handle difficult things. Now whether he was doing it deliberately, or just projecting exactly who he was, the fact was that a trusted relationship was built with his audience. I believe the way he did that is exactly how we need to create our relationships with our audience.
There is a professional marketing influencer, Tamara McCleary, who has stated before that she believes you need to control your brand, how people see you, as an individual. She asks you to think of the 3 things you want people to say about you. What are they? When you then go about writing or tweeting or making videos, are you being true to those adjectives, so that you reinforce that branding. Control it.
So based on that, I’d like to revise this beautiful quote from Mister Rogers.
… with my amazing Microsoft Paint skills, for the three adjectives I think we should strive for, if we want to build trust:
“Be Honest, Be Kind, Be Helpful”
I’d like to spend some time with you on why these 3 things are going to help us, and also the organizations we work for.
So why are we talking about Trust? Why does it matter? How does advocacy get involved?
The base problem we have right now, our industry is in a cloud of doubt and fear about privacy: The surveillance state, large data breaches, new privacy legislations…
We’re all feeling the need to be extra vigilant. Brand Trust is now a differentiator with consumers.
The brands that build trust with their customers will be able to gain them and retain them. Those that violate that trust will lose these customers. It’s pretty simple math.
So that’s the business problem we are trying to solve.
This means a lot of organizations are focusing on meeting privacy legislation needs. If they can show they take privacy seriously and will treat customer data securely, this gains that trust. This kind of organizational trust approach works really well.
But that’s not what this presentation is about!
But what about those of us who are not handling that data? Who are not building software that impacts privacy? How do we help our organization build trust?
I think this is where individual advocacy plays its part.
It has been proven that individual employees at an organization have way more impact at building connections than standard corporate messaging.
The 2017 Social Employee publication showed that social messages from individual employees gain 24 times the reactions.
The 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer highlighted that audiences found more credibility with the message the further it was away from the executive. The more somebody was like themselves, or appeared to be an expert in their field, the more likely the individual was to find them credible.
Though I will call out that this does depend on the message being sent, and the target audience. In general, if a message is for an executive, executives prefer to hear that from another executive. So while for a general audience you might use individual employees as advocates, it’s also important to cultivate this advocacy in your executive to be able to reach their peers.
A more recent study, in the 2020 Hootsuite and Altimeter Social Transformation Report, showed a 28% increase in reach by using employee advocacy, without social ads. So beyond just getting reactions from folks, this supports the logical deduction that if you have more people spreading a message you will reach more audience outside your standard corporate reach.
And something that is very relevant today: Trust through ethics.
The 2020 Edelman report highlighted that trust was in a crisis, but that trust was built through competence and ethical behavior. The report showed that around 76% of a company’s trust capital was based on integrity, purpose, and dependability. Being good at something was only a part of the equation and customers wanted a company to stand for something and know where they were going.
Interestingly, this also showed a shift on this topic to wanting more of an executive message of support for this type of messaging, as opposed to individuals within the organization.
So we need trust, we can use advocacy to build trust, what does that mean exactly? There are a few different ways to do this.
[Customer advocate] The customer advocate, or developer advocate in some circles, listens. Their role is to gather the feedback.
[Brand advocate] The brand advocate is something I’ve done myself. Whether it was Trello for task management, or TeamCity for continuous integration, this is a way where I, as the user, advocate to others about how something really helped me out.
[Employee advocate] An employee advocate is similar to a brand advocate, but they happen to work for the brand itself. They often know a lot of details about their brand’s offering and can detail how it could help you.
[Influencer] Influencers may have never actually used a product or service, but have a lot of followers so they can be used as channels to get messages out. Social influencers have a lot of reach, but often are not seen as credible voices.
[Mix?] Or, you might be doing a mix of these. For example, in a former life I was a Sitecore MVP with an implementation partner. That meant that I did some customer advocacy on behalf of my end customer going back to my employer, or Sitecore. I also would do brand advocacy on behalf of Sitecore, or any other tools I happened to be using. I also tried to be an employee advocate for our partner services when it made sense.
Finding the balance that works for you is key.
So how do we maximize trust? There is a formula for that, of course, and there are a few flavors of this out there.
Essentially, what you can see here is that in order to be trusted, you need to be knowledgeable and honest about your topic, you need to connect in a way that is kind and open, and also you need to be helpful.
However, even if you do these things, you erode at this trust whenever you do self-promotion or are seen as acting out of your own interests primarily.
As I mentioned, I do a bunch of advocacy in my role, trying to help out. But I am fully aware that I erode away at that trust when I promote something done by my team, or by another group in Sitecore. I honestly want people to know about the brilliant work they are doing, but I need to consciously balance this by sharing great work by other people, especially people from whom I see no benefit in promoting. It’s important to me that I’m not just a ‘Sitecore-social-bot’, that I am actively curating content that I believe is helpful for those that follow me.
If we want to be on the Trusted side of the ledger, we need to start with the Credibility aspect. I am hoping you are sharing about something you care about and know, so I think we need to focus on the Honesty part of that credibility.
It seems obvious that if you want to be trusted by somebody, best not to be deceitful. Give your honest opinions and be transparent. Industry research backs this up, as seen in the latest 2019 CMO Survey. It showed that across consumers and CMOs, the top driver was transparency.
But it is not always that simple.
Conversations are not always black and white, especially when dealing in a competitive landscape, where your ultimate goal is to pull customers to your community and not to others. So is honesty really the best policy?
[VISUAL: Proof point] 2019 CMO Survey by Dentsu Aegis Network (43K across 24 markets): “the #1 driver of trust in digital businesses is transparency” (55% of consumers, 53% of CMOs)
Being honest is a bit of a balancing act. You need to figure out how to find a fair and appropriate harmony between:
This can be SO. TIRING.
That’s a lot of mental gymnastics that you sometimes must do on the fly, sometimes on stage, while somebody is asking you a question with a mic.
There are some great tips out there on how to do public relations and dodge and bridge away from live questions, especially redirecting to following up one-on-one for a deeper discussion. This usually gives you the opportunity to go online and have some time to filter your message.
I’d like to do a little scenario at this point, have us all pretend what it would be like to be helping out about something we are passionate about, when we get a question. The question goes like this…
Now, you could reply with this:
“Oh, yeah, I heard about [new tech]. Sarah in Engineering said she was working on something for that, but I told her that it was pretty garbage tech and we shouldn’t waste our time. But, she didn’t agree, and I was told we’ll have something out by the end of the year for that.”
That doesn’t sound…. great. While this might get a laugh, it’s not how you should act as a professional representing an organization. Let’s try adding some of our ‘filters’ from our balancing act.
Part of building your advocate relationship is making yourself easier to work with. Try something that invites collaboration or continued contact, not being negative and shutting down. You, and your organization, will be glad of your positive approach!
Even though a name was mentioned in the question, you don’t want to pull in specific people, their contact information, or generally drop any sort of names if you don’t have to. Keep it generic and noncommittal.
You might already know that “the team” is working on supporting the new tech, but that’s not open public knowledge, and business priorities change. Best to keep things a little open.
Now a tricky part here might be if you honestly don’t think the new tech is really that great. Your organization plans on providing support because it’s popular, but you personally really don’t think it’s a good idea for production use. Earlier, we trimmed out the content about ‘garbage tech’ because it wasn’t a positive way to interact, but if you have personally looked into it and have opinions to its usage, you should response appropriately.
If the individual you are speaking to is under NDA with your company, you might be able to share something individually or in an NDA-protected channel. Still, there might be some parts that you have to be careful about, like specific releases or dates. However, you are usually working with these individuals more closely and trying to be more open.
The important piece here is to make sure they know that the information you are giving them is subject to the contract they signed, otherwise they have no way of knowing this is not public information.
So back to the question at hand: Is Honesty Always The Best Policy? I would say that a controlled truth is what you need to have. 100% transparency and honesty might be achievable sometimes, so do it when you can. This will earn you valuable “trust points”. Make sure to add those other filters when providing information so you can vary the transparency and still meet your ethical and professional needs. You may not be able to share everything, but you can focus on what your audience NEEDS.
The second part of the trust algorithm was empathy. I believe we can meet this by bringing kindness into play.
Bringing kindness to marketing and developer relations sounds like something that couldn’t possibly work in a hyper-competitive business world, where we value “crushing the competition” and “winning at all costs”. Consumers are tired of that, they are tired of the shouting, the constant pushing. They want it to be easier.
Being kind with your audience is about saying “You can work with me, I respect you, and it will be a nice experience for us to work together”.
[Quote on slide] “By practicing kindness in your business, you can increase your income, generate new clients, stimulate repeat customers to buy, and much more…” Jill Lublin Author, Speaker, Publicity Relations Consultant
This is a long-game approach. You are looking to have lasting relationships for long-term benefits instead of short-term satisfaction. You are looking to create a connection, create something that is more than a campaign ad. You want somebody to feel comfortable when they hear from you and feel good about reaching out to you for help.
[Quote on slide] “What is desperately needed at this time is a global attitudinal adjustment in which we, as individuals, business owners, and leaders, commit to implementing kindness strategies into our lives, businesses, and everyday affairs in order to facilitate a return to societal balance — as well as to increase our individual success.” Jill Lublin Author, Speaker, Publicity Relations Consultant
As I mentioned earlier, being kind helps your audience want to work with you. It’s about building a relationship. This can even directly impact people wanting to literally work with you, as seen in the Businesssolver 2020 Workplace Empathy survey where 83% of employees would consider leaving their job for a more empathetic organization. Creating an experience of kindness draws people to you and your message.
I spend a lot of my own time working with our community, so I usually like to show examples from that. If somebody wants help with a problem, I feel they have two primary factors in their decision making:
When we work as advocates, we usually try to demonstrate our expertise area which allows us to stand out and be the person somebody goes to about a topic. This can help a community with that first factor.
But the second factor is where kindness comes into play. A safe space is needed. If you don’t bring kindness to your advocacy, you won’t be trusted enough for somebody to connect with you. At the very least, it will erode at that trust.
Being kind is not always about supporting your audience with the questions they have. While I have personally gone about my career aspiring for the “trusted advisor” role with others, that is not the only way to interact with a community and build up trust. Even if you are not trying to interact in a community as an expert, you can still advocate for your organization as somebody who attempts to connect people, share information, or get people excited about something you are excited about. How you do this is crucial to building trust. In this scenario, the most important elements of kindness are being open to questions, making sure to connect people in a mutually beneficial way while respecting privacy, and sharing your excitement about things in a way that reflects well on you and your organization. Positivity and encouragement can go a long way to making people feel like they are in a good working relationship with you! Social impact is another way to establish trust via kindness. Do you volunteer? Do you donate to charities? Do you support certain social causes? Does your organization? Good deeds and selflessness also reflect well upon you and your organization and offer you a way to use kindness for a social good while also helping your overall brand image.
The final pillar I want to talk about is actually the one that is the easiest for most: being helpful! This might be about sharing knowledge you have, or helping somebody find what they need. Being open and giving allows you to inspire and lift up others.
The industry we are in is anything but a repetitive cookie-cutter delivery cycle. You can have decades of experience and still hit new things that you’ve never seen before. Technology is changing, problems are changing, solutions are changing… it’s impossible to know it all.
So we need helpers. We need people willing to learn and then share what they have learned. To make it less scary for the everyone.
[Quote on slide] “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” - Fred Rogers, 1999 Interview With Karen Herman
The great thing about building partnerships, a community, a neighborhood, is that we can all benefit and we can all help out. There isn’t just a small cabal of ‘leaders’ or ‘elders’ that know all about everything, we each in our own way have something to contribute. And we can each benefit from the help of others.
[Quote on slide:] “All of us, at some time or other, need help. Whether we’re giving or receiving help, each one of us has something valuable to bring to this world. That’s one of the things that connects us as neighbors—in our own way, each one of us is a giver and a receiver.” - Fred Rogers, 2003 The World According to Mister Rogers
From a business perspective, this helping brings individuals to you, much like when we discussed kindness. You begin to be identified for your expertise, which gravitates individuals to you. People want to succeed, and by helping others you help them succeed. Their memory of you will be tied to their success.
[Quote on slide] “Deep down, we know what matters in this life is more than winning for ourselves. What really matters is helping others win, too. Even if it means slowing down and changing our course now and again.” - Fred Rogers, 2002 Dartmouth College Commencement Address
I was lucky enough to see Jay Baer speak a few times on his philosophy of Youtility. He’s a really engaging speaker and uses a lot of humor in his presentation to explain how helping always beats selling.
Shouting louder is not going to beat the competitor messaging, what you need to do is be relevant.
He asks his audience “is your marketing so useful that people would pay for it?”
There are some hilarious examples in his presentations, like the tv commercial where the man yells at the screen about buying used golf clubs over and over, but at the core of it all is the concept that by helping other people you create a connection with them. You are giving them something so useful, helping them succeed so much, that in their mind, without realizing it, they have already started working with you. When they need to take another step, they could go through the research to find somebody else and test that out. Or they can continue working with the individual or group that has already helped them out.
How could I leverage this? Part of my team’s role is around enablement. Whether that’s our internal technical staff, partners, or the external community, we want to help people understand the product and what it can do. We do a bunch of different things like events, blogging, etc.
Shortly after I joined Sitecore, we discussed video enablement. What if we just GAVE IT AWAY? No strings attached, just consistent content on a variety of topics from different experts.
The Education Services team had started up a YouTube channel named ‘Master Sitecore’ a few years before that, but it stopped putting out regular content when we started looking for a home. We decided to offer to provide some content to the channel to help with the existing audience…
For the first year, I set us a very aggressive goal: I wanted to target a 50% increase in monthly views and subscriptions compared to the previous year.
We spent the first months putting the content plan together, figuring out what content we would create, figuring out an internal/partner/external publishing model, and then we started to push out content to YouTube around December/January.
As new content went out, there was a direct correlation in rising views and subscriptions. The success was amazing!
I didn’t expect that we could do that type of 50% increase target again, so I gave us a more modest, though still aggressive, 20% increase. So this meant we had to hit the previous 50% increase, +another 20% on top of that.
We were a well-oiled machine by now and we had our release schedule consistent. We were hovering about where I wanted us to target, and then we started taking off in Views, but subscriptions were on a decline. When we looked into it, the decline happened when we changed up our schedule. Even though people were still watching the content we already had pushed, we weren’t reaching a new audience unless we were creating new pieces.
We were still getting new subscriptions, but we learned our lesson – We needed to keep helping, keep doing it regularly, and often, in order to keep growing our audience at the rate we wanted.
One of the interesting learnings we took away when looking at our statistics was that people interacted with content in different ways. Some of our content was getting a lot of views, especially shorter content on trending topics. Other content was having a much higher engagement, even though it had fewer views and tended to be longer.
People learn in different ways, and sometimes they need a full class, and sometimes they just want to pop in for a few minutes and hear your latest. The key we’ve seen is in trying to mix it up and provide a variety of different topics, lengths, and levels of content.
One of the things we’d like to do some day is really give a learning path for these videos so people could go through a guided journey, but for now we are just trying to help one week at a time.
We’re trying to take this to in-person events as well, know. Go beyond just helping people with the product. How can we help them without talking about our products? What are things we have learned that we can share?
I spoke a short while back at a Google Developers Group. Pretty much everybody in the room there had zero interest in customer marketing or CMS or DXP or any of that. I had a Sitecore logo on two slides (beginning and end), but I never talked about the company I worked for, I didn’t mention our products. I didn’t even really talk about my own job… I just tried to help out.
Our team is trying to do this with a variety of events and topics, reaching out, getting in front of people, trying to see how we can help.
Some of the more astute in the audience probably are already wondering how you would actually get somebody convinced in an organization to allow this type of work to happen. Some organizations might already be doing this, so it becomes easier, but there are some challenges to face when trying to introduce advocacy into an organization for the first time.
One of the most common issues is about the nature of the trust that is built. With advocacy, YOU are building the trust. The individual. Your trust is being reflected on the organization brand, but all the trust you build up is going to stay with you. If you move to another organization, that trust is walking out the door.
So the question becomes: why would an organization want to invest in people building individual trust if that investment may not be there for the long term?
First, I’d like to point to a meme that’s been making it’s rounds for a while… the professional development one shown here. This is the first part of the discussion: you need to invest in your own team if you want to have a better team and have them want to stay and work with you.
Another note here is that if you create a workplace that supports team members being helpful for their audience, that tries to do some sort of good out there, you also create a longer-lasting relationship with that individual. That advocate, even if they go somewhere else to do advocacy, is still going to represent you well during their entire career. And you still benefit from the help they give out because you’ve built a professional who helps other organizations. For free.
A final point here is that while the trust is being built with that individual, the brand is also getting a reputation themselves as somebody who believes in this type of relationship with their audience. This helps you bring in others to pick up where somebody else left off. Microsoft is a pretty excellent example of this with their advocates. They have a few long-term voices who have been there a while, but there are a lot of moving parts in their advocates group that come and go.
Most organizations don’t have dedicated roles for advocacy work, especially those getting started at it. That means, advocates are doing it ON TOP of existing work. Being responsive to individuals in a community, monitoring social channels, travelling for events, making videos, writing blogs… all of it requires a lot of time investment.
How is that going to work out? How is an employee going to carve out time for this and still meet the duties of their job?
Unfortunately, most have to do it on their own time, which is a sure path to burn out long term. If you want to invest in mental health of your workers and brand trust, managers need to watch for this.
This means balancing priorities. Carve out SOME of your time for it, remembering that there is a return to the organization. This is not “lost time”.
If you are a manager, help your team find the tasks that are less valuable than trust building, and free those up.
Same prioritization on advocacy tasks. Focus! You will want to help everybody, but you need to make it sustainable.
Try to find something that is a differentiator. If you are going to invest time, can it show expertise that others don’t have? Will your organization be seen as “leading” in that area? That is a valuable thing to invest in.
There are plenty of social-bots out there that it may be tempting to automate these tasks to free up time.
However, automation is usually ‘visible’ in some way, and if your goal is trust it actually erodes away at that trust.
Instead, here are a few ways to scale:
Alrighty, so now I’ve gotten you all jazzed up about this over the last 30 minutes and you’re wondering HOW DO I GET STARTED RIGHT NOW JASON!
First off, you need to have a conversation with yourself. You need to understand what you want to do and why you want to do it. You have to commit to yourself on this.
Next you likely need to have a conversation with your manager or person responsible for balancing priorities. How will this fit in with your organization? How much effort is appropriate to the organizations’ business goals?
You also probably want to have a conversation with advocates you trust about how to get started and understand the time commitments and pressures so you have a full view of what you are getting into.
Getting started into advocacy doesn’t have to be a big scary thing. You can start by doing something very small to try it out. It is important to find something you can be comfortable sticking to and repeating. The key is sustainability.
When I started trying to help people, I didn’t really have much time available, but I went onto Stack Overflow every day for 15 minutes and tried to see if there was a question I could answer.
After several years, once I joined the Sitecore community as a consultant, I decided to start blogging. I tried a lot of things, and a lot of schedules. At one point my blog was putting out something once every week, then it was once every two weeks. I couldn’t sustain that over time… now I blog when I can and I try to re-use content that I’m investing in (like a presentation) to be the source for that content. How you are helping is also important. If you are not somebody who likes writing, a blog format might not be right for you. If opening PowerPoint makes your skin itch, you probably don’t want to be start with presentation decks. If you find being forced into public speaking and mingling is really emotionally draining and stressfu, it might not be a good place to start.
As I mentioned, sustainability is key, and if you start out doing something that you hate doing you are eating away at the likelihood you can keep doing it. You want early success, something to build off of. Something that you are comfortable with and feels right.
Another thing to make sure you can do is measure your impact. How you are reaching out will drive how you determine your metrics, but this might be things like visitors/views/subscriptions/audience counts.
There are tons of possible metrics, but the important thing is to be watching, learning, and improving… and reporting your success! One of the things you might miss when you get started is gathering your success message. If you aren’t broadcasting how well things are going, it’s harder to back up your claim to have time set aside in your daily duties.
Also, if you make a good case, you might be able to expand to more time or have others join you in these efforts.
It’s almost time for us to say goodbye, so I hope that you feel ready to go out there and be a better neighbor in your community.
Remember, when you start thinking about how you can help advocate for your organization, but also your audience, try to focus on those three pillars we’ve been talking about.
“Be Honest, Be Kind, Be Helpful”
Follow me on Twitter @StCyrThoughts or on my blog at jasonstcyr.com