One of the things that excited me as a young, aspiring journalist was the noble responsibility of the news media to act as the "fourth branch" of government.
All the Presidents Men was still a clarion call when I learned the ins and outs of investigative reporting and dreamed of being the next Woodward or Bernstein with a breaking news story that would land POTUS in the hot seat.
Today, our politicians do a fine job of implicating themselves on social media; they no longer need our help. And a full 61% of the world deems journalists as nonobjective—even partisan, according to the Edelman Trust Barometer. "Fake news" is so pervasive our schools have to teach kids how to recognize it.
Despite that sad state of affairs, there is a silver lining for your business. The same poll finds that 61% of the world trusts your business vs. nongovernmental organizations (57%), their country's government (53%) and the news media (51%).
Your customers, consumers, and the general public are ready to trust you. So, how can your business become trusted by the masses?
You can use thought leadership to show customers what your business stands for and, more important, why trusting you can help them alleviate their worries and organizational challenges.
Begin your content with customer pain points. Let your audience know immediately that you understand why an issue keeps them up at night. Give them the answer to their problem only after you've demonstrated you "feel their pain."
Case in point: Here's an expert from a blog I wrote recently on unemployment insurance fraud. The business' audience is small to mid-size employers:
If you are an employer reading that, you'll likely be worried enough to read the rest of the article detailing ways employers can prevent that type of fraud.
The previously cited Edelman study also asked respondents which leaders they trust most within businesses. The highest level of trust (59%) is bestowed upon technical subject-matter experts and academics; CEOs trail with 44%.
The takeaway? Have your SMEs author your content. Allow their subject expertise, best-practices, and lessons learned to be the main focus.
TIP: Your internal experts are short on time and may not be the best writers. That's OK. You can effectively extract SME knowledge and inject it into your content.
Teach your target audience what they need to know, even if it doesn't end in a direct sales pitch. You can do so by creating tangential content.
Case in point: In 2010, a company that built education materials for skilled nursing staff published a series of whitepapers on the Affordable Care Act. The training modules were never mentioned in the whitepapers, but the content provided tremendous ROI for the business.
Why? Because the business earned customers' brand trust overnight.
Nursing home operators were desperate for information on how the ACA would affect them, and the company quickly became the authority on the topic. Although the whitepapers had nothing to do with their product, they had everything to do with solving their customers' biggest pain points.
Write case studies about your business that show and don't tell. Outline how you built your business's DEI program as an example to help other businesses. Publish a case study on your business's wellness initiative or employee incentive program. Announce the day you give your employees off to vote, or volunteer for a cause your business champions. Such stories are evidence of your industry leadership.
TIP: Do it internally, too. Publish a weekly or monthly internal newsletter, even if it's just a page with company wins and employee successes. The Edelman survey found that 76% of employees respect their employers. You can turn employees into brand champions by throwing the brand messaging their way, too.
Nothing makes me close a browser or magazine more quickly than a statistic cited incorrectly—or not at all. It can severely damage brand trust, and so can the all-too-common practice of making broad, sweeping statement that may not be true.
Case in point: When ghostwriting for a subject-matter expert (SME), it's easy to take their information at face value, but what if a cited stat or source isn't correct? Double-check before publishing!
If you don't, letters to the editor demanding a retraction based on something not factually correct, or false product claims that lead to terrible social media reviews, are the quickest way to tarnish any business's reputation.
Your industry already has reputable distribution channels, so use them. It's easier to secure a free spot on those channels today because publications and businesses are increasing their content output but don't have the capacity to do it all in-house. Look for industry titles, professional organizations your customers are members of. When a trusted industry publication or organization runs your article, you'll gain brand trust from their readership as well.
Case in point: This article! MarketingProfs is running something I wrote, so you feel you can trust my advice, right?
With a divided America, businesses have a chance to take center stage with their thought leadership.
Don't disappoint. Show customers they can trust you. They're waiting to hear what you have to say.
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