We all choose to trust someone: our recruiter, our employer, our friends and family and the loosely connected peer groups we have built online. Besides these closely held and trusted relationships, we also look to online influencers – everything from shopping sites and corporate websites to journalists and columnists to sites like Yelp, Angie’s List and Care.com – as credible and reliable sources.
But do we trust these new influencers or do they merely exist to replace the role of advertisers, recruiters and newspapers?
“Influencer” is a role, a responsibility and a form of advocacy — both from an individual’s and an employer’s perspective. And for companies looking to stand out and gain a competitive edge, influence, along with trust, is essential. These two capabilities allow employers and employees new tools for navigating the new world of loosely-connected friendships and relationships. If done correctly, this sort of influence can be a powerful way to connect to individuals and grow faith in a brand. But if executed poorly, people may take you as not an influencer but a scammer.
For instance, employer websites, meant to stand in for brochures, have been expanded to include job sites and blogs, intended to serve as a first point of contact for potential employees. This can provide a great opportunity to stand out as an influencer for the demographic you hope to target.
But get the corporate site wrong — like failing to include material that engages the viewer and creates interaction with your brand — and prospects are less likely to trust your job site. This effect will be exacerbated if, in fact, your workplace is less than ideal and a disgruntled employee posts a less-than-glowing review on Glassdoor.com, a site of some influence in the recruiting community.
How to break down the barriers and establish trust
I’ve written before about the importance for employers of “brand humanization.” This is a mix of culture, community and corporation that leverages the power of social networks to attract a community of employees and prospects (brand advocates if you will) who believe in and trust the brand’s mission. “Humanized” brands encourage the creation of communities that engage in social interaction, which in turn creates greater engagement with employees and prospects and widens the net to attract new participants.
Brand humanization used to establish trust requires some investment on the part of brands, which must ensure their corporate persona engages at a human level. Sometimes corporate persona can derive from a leader. For instance, Virgin’s Richard Branson is the face and persona of the company.
Beyond persona, brands must create communities of interest in which employees, influencers, brand advocates and others who believe in (and trust) the brand can interact. Look at Red Hat’s Opensource.com for an example. It reflects the interests of the brand’s communities — developers, shareholders, open source communities, employees and even those interested in renewable resources.
Trust in a humanized brand also requires that interactions are relevant, timely and appropriate in frequency and duration. Too many brands blanket the social airwaves with self-serving messages on multiple channels. Be restrained, target each interaction to the right channel and make sure you and the community share expectations about frequency of contact and interaction.
Where influence begins
Once trust is in place, or at least a work in progress, it’s possible to begin to create influence.
Influence is a form of currency (See MindTool’s post on The Influence Model for more information). It requires reciprocity: I give you something of value, and you reciprocate. Of course this works best when both parties share a nation of value. In the social world, for example, influence can be acknowledgment in another’s blog post of an idea you had, a hat tip on Twitter, a link to one of your posts in an article and so on.
Finally, we must realize we live in a trust-based economy and adjust not only our behaviors but also our expectations. For instance, companies must be prepared to deal with employees and applicants who withhold trust, create initiatives to humanize their brands and connect with communities (such as being ever-vigilant for comments, attempts to engage and to participate in interactions where appropriate). Building trust creates a new value equation for your brand, and its employees, employee prospects and consumers.
Influence and trust in your brand — whether you’re a recruiter, an employer brand, or another category of influence — is an asset with incredible value. Guard it carefully.
A version of this post was first published on Entrepreneur on 5/29/14.