Friday, March 14, 2014

Make Digital Marketing Trustworthy

I attended another Meetup last night - "Trust and Native Advertising."  My name appears on that page as a registered attendee in case you don't believe me.  I go where cool stuff happens and no one can stop me.  The wisdom of an accomplished journalist, an experienced marketing practitioner, a pioneering tech media publisher, and two social media entrepreneurs all reflected the importance of trust in building relationships.  Silicon Valley Watcher knows that building trust takes a lot more time and work than riding a trend.  My own interactions with the crowd of entrepreneurial wanna-bes who attended showed me that hardly anyone is ready to be trusted.

There's a lot of common sense in building trust into marketing.  The seminar's marketing expert implied that trust starts internally when startups take their marketing function as seriously as anything else.  Trusting your outside marketer to be a sanity check that's integrated into your team is essential.  I trust that wisdom from experience with similar relationships that failed when outside advisers weren't integrated well.  The panelists noted a natural divide between digital natives and digital immigrants but I don't think that's a big problem.  Each evolution in tech brings us more intuitive devices.  Even babies can use an iPad, so figuring out messaging and profile management can't be that hard.  

One of the presenters shared a good tactic for pushing content into social media channels.  Versioning the same content in multiple ways for a few channels is more efficient than blasting the same content to many channels.  It also avoids wasting time from repeatedly customizing content for multiple channels.  I also liked hearing about how well-known bloggers and journalists are influencers who can magnify a brand story.  I think reaching out to influencers is harder than the panelists made it sound.  Popular bloggers must get inundated with requests for guest posts and backlinks.  Some kind of drip campaign targeting a handful of key bloggers would probably work if it demonstrated how a brand's content was evolving.  

I mentioned at the top my disappointment that a lot of the people attracted to these types of Meetups aren't ready to be trusted.  Their conversations with me, and their statements during Q&A, reveal a profound misunderstanding of what constitutes trustworthy behavior.  Some of the people running their mouths acted like they've never seen a microphone before, never spoken in public, and never left home for the big wide world.  I've blogged before about the problems people cause in San Francisco to demonstrate that I am the solution.  I see this kind of behavior at the Commonwealth Club and I used to think it was confined to elderly shut-ins who retired from careers in government cubicles.  Now I see that it also permeates today's techno-augmented youngsters.  People, if you want my trust, do your homework on the presented subject matter and ask intelligent questions.

My peeves with untrustworthy humans extend past the aspirants who populate Meetup audiences.  Web 2.0 startups that "succeed" through hype instead of earnings do so partly by ignoring the need to build trust.  Here come some stunning examples.  Facebook and Twitter will eventually face serious problems because clients who pay for targeted ads can't trust whether their audiences are real.  Both of those companies' user engagement systems are easily manipulated by paid "likes" and "follows" from phony contractors running hundreds of fake profiles out of Internet cafes in developing countries.  Yelp has a similar problem with false reviews from competitors and an algorithm that mysteriously hides valid reviews.  The obvious solution is for these companies is to hire an independent auditor who can verify the extent of fake user profiles in their systems.  The Nielsen Company figured out how to do this with audience ratings for TV and radio broadcasts decades ago and advertisers trust their methodologies.

Trust matters.  It takes a long time to build.  Its foundation is integrity in disclosing facts, processing data, and representing operations.  The Meetup panelists understood this and valued the relationships they built with influencers.  Those influencers built their reputations with integrity.  This very simple lesson in personal character went right over the heads of the majority of attendees.  That's why those people are a long way from ever building world-class companies.