Allan Schoenberg, director of corporate communications, CME Group, analyses the role of social media in building trust in organisations
Discussions on the value of trust have made for interesting conversations within our industry over the past few years. From the financial crisis to natural disasters and geopolitical risks, organisations have been leveraging both external and internal messages and actions to build trust among stakeholders.
Cooperation has long been recognised as a key component of trust. Trust is a vital ingredient in organisations since it helps to foster long-term relationships. It reduces rumours and second guessing that can cause distractions, while, at the same time, motivates, stimulates creativity and helps an organisation to attract and retain customers and employees. Research has also shown that interpersonal trust has a significant impact on relationships and is fundamental to cooperative relationships. But a quick glance at studies, such as the Edelman Trust Barometer, shows that trust in organisations today is faltering.
Corporate communicators increasingly focus today on the profession's desire to 'have a seat at the top table'. We should leverage and focus on trust as the value proposition to make this happen.
Indeed, if there was ever a time for corporate communicators to focus on trust, it is now. At the heart of this discussion is the fine art of persuasion. Trusted individuals and organisations can do a better job at persuading stakeholders. And one key factor driving the 'trust economy' is the rapid rise of social media.
The role of social media
While social media is a new strategy and tactic, it is quickly demonstrating that openness and transparency makes its evolution so valuable. And, at the same time, unavoidable. We should embrace this change. But we need to understand that we are only at the beginning of a new frontier in how social media is actually changing the internal cultures and values of our organisations.
Not only has social media given us a new platform to cheer and grandstand on our organisations' accomplishments, but it also enables us to identify the passionate influencers and customers who believe in our organisations. At the same time, social media heightens our need to listen to individuals and groups who misunderstand or dissent against us.
Trust and credibility are synonymous and a necessary base for persuasion in communications. In business, trust is a condition of every economic transaction built on relationships. Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, articulates the benefits of trusting relationships: 'Without trust, the best we can do is compromise; without trust, we lack the credibility for open, mutual learning and communication and real creativity.'
Organisational trust also enables communicators to help our businesses to respond more quickly and adapt to their environments. Platforms such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook give us a near real-time opportunity to communicate with our stakeholders. The challenge now is that we must always be connected. That changes the very structure of our departments, but also makes it vital to be connected internally to people we need.
But are we ready for the change? Are our leaders ready for change? And how much change are we talking about? For the answers we need to look internally, not only at our own cultures, but also at our role and function within the organisation. Those organisations that have succeeded in social media have been the ones that embrace change from the top down. But they also are the organisations whose communicators have earned the trust of leadership to make this change. We need to understand that success in social media will be different for all of us. Some organisations listen better than others, some participate in areas better than others, and everyone is still learning what all of this change means.
Additionally, another factor that social media brings to the table is reputation management. Reputations have important implications for achieving social approval, power, well-being and success. Organisations who construct trusted networks are perceived as capable of meeting the technical and social demands of their stakeholders. Therefore, companies that invest a considerable amount of energy into social media are perceived as having more desirable qualities, such as an innovative environment, confidence, and trustworthiness. In today's modern world of business, trust helps us to gain approval from key constituents.
Effective trust management
What then constitutes effective trust management? And is social media a bridge to building better trust or a wall that is built around our organisations? Is the trust economy here to stay? Trust is complex and confusing. It can be dangerous to an organisation's reputation when mismanaged. But, like other organisational factors, trust can be a force for enormous good both internally and externally. It can pull people together, move ideas forward, stimulate change, and forge constructive solutions and relationships. To do all that, however, corporate communicators must understand the role of social media and how it can effectively be used to build trust.
This is an exciting time to be in corporate communications. The evolving landscape of resources and technology make our jobs both extremely challenging and rewarding. I am optimistic that all of the disruptions we are going through now as a result of social media are for the better. Our organisations will adapt. Our profession will change. And most of all we will become better business leaders.