How social media trust changed marketing

Trust is one of the great cornerstones of life. The most successful relationships, whether personal or business, are built on trust.  Trust is a key factor in the consumption of news and information, too. Over the years, many readers, listeners, and ultimately viewers placed trust in their preferred media channel for the most current and accurate news and information.  Subsequently, each channel began to exploit the trust gained from consumers by accepting advertisements which allowed businesses to leverage the media’s credibility and intimacy through association. The challenge was then, as is now, to determine how to align the marketing and advertising of the business with the media most apt to have the greatest trust among the target customers. Unfortunately, those trusted channels of media and communication are constantly changing.

Much like early newspaper readers became radio listeners, and radio listeners ultimately became television viewers, social media platforms give individuals a different way in which to consume news and information, and this influences how trust is granted. Trust is still the currency, but it is no longer given freely to traditional media (newspaper, magazines, radio, or television) and marketers do not benefit from this association as they once did. Social media has taken the concept of trust in one-on-one personal relationships and created a somewhat commodified version of trust with online peer relationships that are enabled through the distinct differences of each platform. Trust has shifted from the medium itself to an ever-evolving value placed on an online peer relationship with roots established through relational identity (Pan, Lu, Wang, & Chau, 2017). More specifically, if an online peer seems to like and do things similar to the individual granting such trust, a value is created regardless of whether there is any meaningful engagement outside of the online relationship. Social media, then, has established an entirely different trust model—a model built on peer influence and not channel trust. This new model requires entrepreneurs to think differently about advertising and marketing.

Entrepreneurs may realize the benefits of social media tools to both spread word about their business and to engage with customers in a meaningful way. However, it is not enough to understand the broader value of social media use; it is more important to know how to use each platform to engender trust (Cesaroni & Consoli, 2015). Each social media platform, for example, has a specific way of facilitating engaging its users and each user has his or her pattern and practice of using the different platforms (Kerpen, 2015). No one platform can reach all customers or prospects effectively. Each has its purpose. While Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest get the lion’s share of attention, social media and engagement are much broader than these few networks. In fact, the number opportunities for social engagement is vast and growing every day.

Analyst and cultural anthropologist Brian Solis has been tracking social networks and their use in an ongoing study since 2008. The latest version of The Conversation Prism (below – click to see a bigger version) is Solis and Jesse Thomas’ visualization of these networks. Solis shows large buckets of engagement identified as Listening, Learning, and Adapting, and then further subdivides into smaller buckets related their functional business support: Brand, Community, Service, Development, Marketing, Sales, Communications and HR (Solis & Thomas, 2017). Solis’ work argues that social media is not necessarily platform driven, but instead, engagement is driven based on the unique needs, values, and expectations (NVEs) of individual customers.

Arguably it is the NVEs that drives the platform choice; therefore, a niche platform that aligns better to an entrepreneur’s business offering may prove more productive for the entrepreneur than the more conventional networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. This is especially true when considering the growing number of platforms. It can be difficult for an entrepreneur to determine where to place his or her time and energy for social media use. In fact, determining the best fit between the user patterns and the most appropriate platform for the business’ current and potential customers can make or break an online marketing campaign. This is not to say the more traditional networks should not be used at all. Instead, they might be utilized in a more limited manner depending upon the target customer NVEs.

Regardless of the hype, social media is not a replacement for face-to-face customer engagement. A social networking platform, like letters and the telephone, is a tool in the entrepreneurial toolbox. It is imperative to select the tool or tools that will help best achieve the business goals and then stick with the plan. Do not, for example, launch a Twitter account, Facebook Page, or even a blog and then let it go dormant. In today’s active social environment, a stagnant online presence can be more detrimental to the business than no presence at all (Geho & Dangelo, 2012). Keep in mind that the wrong tool or using the right tool in a wrong way can also be detrimental to the business, and no one social media tool is likely to reach all current customers or prospective customers. In the end, marketing online is largely like marketing offline: Go where the customers are, engage in a relevant dialog, and gain their trust. Valued relationships are what build businesses.



Cesaroni, F., & Consoli, D. (2015, December). Are Small Businesses Really Able to Take Advantage of Social Media? (P. Peres, & A. Mesquita, Eds.) The Electronic Journal of Knowledge Management, 13(4), 257-268.

Geho, P., & Dangelo, J. (2012). The Evolution of Social Media as a Marketing Tool for Entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurial Executive, 17, 61-68.

Kerpen, D. (2015). Likeable Social Media (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.

Matney, L. (2017, June 22). YouTube has 1.5 billion logged-in monthly users watching a ton of mobile video. Retrieved July 5, 2017, from

Pan, Z., Lu, Y., Wang, B., & Chau, P. Y. (2017). Who Do You Think You Are? Common and Differential Effects of Social Self-Identity on Social Media Usage. Journal of Management Information Systems, 34(1), 71-101. doi:10.1080/07421222.2017.1296747

Solis, B., & Thomas, J. (2017). The Prism Chronicles. Retrieved July 5, 2017, from



Featured Image Source: Getty Images, Pixelfit

How to measure social media

There is much talk in marketing circles about how to measure the impact of social media.  Some measurements are hard, such as actual campaign response and conversion rate measures.  Others are a bit softer, such as measuring campaign reaction frequency and tone (e.g., positive, neutral, negative). While both are valid measures, I do think we have been missing a broader, yet critical component of our measures—the overall financial impact of word-of-mouth (WOM) spread.

It occurred to me today that I may already have a way to measure WOM influence and the impact of social media.

Years ago, I came up with a simple equation to measure what I called, the “Residual Value of a Customer.”  In other words, this is a calculation to determine value of an average customers’ impact on your business relative to their individual influence on other customers.  Keep in mind that this was before the internet and social media tools, so the sphere of influence of an individual customer was generally much less—maybe 7-10 people total.  However, I think the logic still applies today.

The Residual Value of a Customer takes into account the annual sales to a customer, the expected tenure as a customer, and the estimated number of people influenced.  For example, if “Customer A” spends $150 a year with a company and the average tenure is three years, then “Customer A’s” value to the organization is $450.  However, if “Customer A” recommends the product/service to just one other customer who follows the same spending/tenure patterns (as the average), “Customer A” now has a residual value of $1,350.

Let’s take this thinking a step further.  Recent research has suggested that the average Facebook user, for example, has 120 friends.  The average user may interact meaningfully with between 10 and 20 Facebook Friends within a 30-day period.  Using the calculations above, let’s say “Customer A” influences 20 friends within a 30-day period.  “Customer A” now has a residual value of $27,000, as do each of those 20 friends who adhere to the average customer measures.  In this first circle or ripple of influence, the residual value of these 21 customers is now more than one-half million dollars over the next three years, assuming the averages spending and purchasing life remains consistent.

These are significant numbers, and all brought about by one customer sharing experiences with a circle of friends.

I have used this model a number of times to demonstrate the power of WOM marketing programs to senior management.  It is simple to understand, and proven using average customer sales and tenure numbers.  In the majority of the cases, I’ve been successful in gaining support from senior management for at least testing WOM or now, social media, programs.  I have also used the Residual Value of a Customer to demonstrate the opportunity cost for not engaging in WOM.

In the spirit of sharing, I’ve created an online version of the model for you to use here: Residual Value of a Customer Calculator.  Feel free to use this model and share with others.

I’d appreciate your feedback.

Why we need social media

Digital interaction is an interesting thing, isn’t it? Through Twitter, we have meaningful conversations with people we know only online. Our Facebook accounts reconnect us with friendships we previously thought were lost to time. We carry our friends with us wherever we go and thrive on the capability for instant interactions. Some of us are reliving our past, while others of us are making business connections. In the process, many of us have broadened our definition of a “friend” to include those people we have just met, and we share the most unremarkable parts of our lives as if these friends were “long lost,” rather than “newly made.”

We, humans, are social animals, of course. Most of us like engage with others so that we can have an understanding of where we fit into the fabric of our culture. We Americans, in particular, are finding ourselves growing disconnected from those around us. We overwhelm ourselves with extracurricular activities to occupy our time, we work too much and relax too little, and we focus on getting “things” done, rather than experience doing “things.” Overall, we have lost the personal connections to the people in America who make our “stuff,” grow our food, or frankly, those who live next door. It is almost as if our desires for personal independence and self-reliance have eclipsed our need for social interaction. They have not, of course. Our requirements of social interactions are just different now from before.

Today, we try to balance our desires with our need for social interaction by leveraging digital technologies into the mix to help us maintain our connections in the lulls of our daily living. We all do it, but some of us do it better. It seems to me that each generation appears to connect and build relationships differently using technology. For example, I have observed that Millennials use social media as a way of extending their daily interactions with their friends. With their mobility restricted by expansive neighborhoods and overprotective parents while growing, they had no choice but to explore new online social technologies as a way to maintain their friendships. As a result, communicating by text, Facebook or MySpace is the same as a phone call or a face-to-face conversation. Social media and the digital technologies that support it are fully integrated into the life of most Millennials.

Observations of Generation X show me that they rely heaviest on cell phones for social interaction, I suspect because most were in college when mobile phones became affordable for and adopted by the masses. Texting and social media tools appear to be time-consumers that this Generation has not yet fully embraced. Instead, they are practical about the use of social media, engaging with those pieces that benefit them most (such as using Twitter to build business relationships), disengaging when there is little personal gain.

Baby Boomers appear to function best using face-to-face, phone, and email communications but are rapidly adopting Facebook. I think, they can “see” their friends and feel engaged in those lives as if they lived next door. This closeness is important to Boomers, especially as they age because it seems to provide Boomers true “social” opportunities in the context of their primary interests: connecting with old friends, sharing political news and views, discussing religion and exploring hobbies.

Each generation has found a way to make social media technologies relevant to their own lives, to give us opportunities to connect with others regularly, as we allow our culture to put increasing demands on our time. The ability for us to bend and mold social media tools to our individual needs, values, and expectations is what makes it work so well in building and re-building our valued connections.

We need social media tools to help us maintain our ability to be human in the face of the demands made on us by our culture, our peers, and ourselves. These tools are now such an essential part of how we function as individuals and who we are together as a community, that living without social media and supporting technologies is unthinkable.

It is clear to me that social media allows us to maintain some degree of sanity in our lives. Without these tools, we would give up what little socialization we do enjoy; and I am not so sure that would be good for our minds, or our souls.