Cour­tesy of Mashable.

As if the pres­sure from your boss (who’s already ques­tion­ing what his invest­ments in social media are really get­ting him) wasn’t enough, For­rester had to go do some research and drop a seri­ous dose of real­ity on everybody’s golden goose. Sur­vey­ing 58,000 online con­sumers in the U.S., For­rester found that only 15% of con­sumers trust posts by com­pa­nies on social media sites such as Face­book and Twitter.

Ouch. Isn’t social media sup­posed to be all about cre­at­ing trust between brands and con­sumers? What happened?

Then there was this: 70% of those sur­veyed said rec­om­men­da­tions from friends and fam­ily are the most trust­wor­thy. Although that should be com­pletely obvi­ous to most peo­ple, see­ing these two sta­tis­tics on oppo­site sides of the spec­trum says this to me: either social media is not what we thought it was, or we’re just doing it wrong. I think it’s the latter.

Yes, I’m talk­ing to you social media strate­gists (includ­ing myself). If con­sumers see cor­po­rate social media cam­paigns as the same ol’ adver­tis­ing in fancy new social media clothes, then that’s likely a reflec­tion of how we are treat­ing them. It’s no sur­prise then that they’re not eager to extend us trust—they can see the dis­guise from a mile away.

Let’s not dwell on the neg­a­tives here, though—I think we can fix what’s bro­ken. It’s pos­si­ble that the gap between what we think we are pro­vid­ing and what we are truly deliv­er­ing to cus­tomers comes down to this: there’s no exchange of value between our­selves and our cus­tomers. In the end, we seek value from our cus­tomers in the form of their rec­om­men­da­tion, but are we really com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing rec­i­p­ro­cal value? In other words, are we will­ing to make our social com­mu­ni­ties more about them than they are about us?

Granted, this is not an easy task, and even more press­ing is that lately it’s become clear that it’s not enough to give cus­tomers what they want; we need to give it to them in real time. Before we can think about real time, we should focus on fig­ur­ing out who our audi­ence is and what they truly want.

Take Red Bull, for exam­ple. They get a lot of buzz for being a social savvy brand. The way I believe they do this is sim­ple: They found out what their audi­ence was all about (extreme, and niche sports, art and music—you know, young peo­ple stuff), and they gave it to them by spon­sor­ing ath­letes like Felix Baum­gart­ner and mak­ing real con­tri­bu­tions to the cul­ture around motor­sports, bik­ing, surf­ing, etc. They even have their own mag­a­zine all about those topics—not about Red Bull.

Make no mis­take, for most com­pa­nies tak­ing this approach requires a seri­ous shift in cul­ture and think­ing. But if we really want to take con­trol of the poten­tial of social media, and in turn be more con­nected to our cus­tomers, we must focus on deliv­er­ing tan­gi­ble value to them.

As you think about your audi­ence and social con­tent strat­egy, keep in mind four ques­tions that I like to ask when con­sid­er­ing the approach to just about any­thing we do in social:

  1. How do our cus­tomers use the chan­nel, and what do they want out of it?
  2. What con­tent exists (and doesn’t exist) that is rel­e­vant to the vary­ing ways our audi­ence lever­ages the channel?
  3. What acces­si­ble and valu­able meth­ods are avail­able for us to use?
  4. What are the busi­ness real­i­ties that need consideration?

I fully believe that our focus as social media strate­gists must be on the exchange of value in order for us to earn con­sumer trust and endorse­ment. Even the best brands all too often fall into the trap of what’s in it for us instead of what’s in it for the con­sumer. At the end of the day, if we aren’t giv­ing con­sumers any­thing valu­able, then we haven’t earned their trust and we’re back in the For­rester Research doghouse.