The Science of Building Trust With Social Media

Responsiveness Is Key for Digital Communication


In e-mail, Linkedin and Facebook messages, much of the traditional markers of trust, such as voice intonation and body language, are hidden. Olson finds that when only text is available, participants judge trustworthiness based on how quickly others respond. So, for instance, it is better to respond to a long Facebook message “acknowledging” that you received the message, rather than to wait until there’s time to send a more thorough first message. Wait too long and you are likely to be labeled “unhelpful,” along with a host of other expletive-filled attributions the mind will happily construct.

Psychologically speaking, responsiveness makes it easier for others to attribute our misdeeds to the situation, rather than our personality. If you find keeping up with multiple inboxes difficult, you might consider having sites such as Linkedin and Facebook send e-mail alerts. Then, only archive the e-mail once the message has been responded to.

The same advice holds true for a medium such as Twitter, where one’s identity is represented by little more than a small square avatar and 140 characters of text. Earlier this month, when Southwest and director Kevin Smith went head to head, Southwest’s social media team jumped into the fray immediately with this tweet:

Southwest Air Tweet Image

While reactions to Southwest’s decision to eject Smith from his flight have been mixed, its immediate response on a Saturday night allowed the company to be perceived as committed to a controversial policy, rather than a much worse alternative: ambivalent to customer concerns.

There are also other great examples of responsiveness, for those of us not in charge of a major airline’s public relations. The Veggie Grill, an up-and-coming vegetarian restaurant in Southern California, responded to a customer’s request for a particular dish via Twitter:

Veggie Grill Tweet Image

Veggie Grill’s responsiveness seems to have paid off: @quarrygirl devoted an entire blog post to reviewing her meal. She sealed the experience with a statement that must have made Veggie Grill quite happy, “Please take my advice and get out to the veggie grill el segundo location NOW. and if you can’t go now, be sure to go ASAP.”

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Author: Dewita

Co-founder Ecotwist Labs.

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