Home  »  M-Theory: Building audience trust – Communitech

M-Theory: Building audience trust – Communitech

Change is afoot in the social internet again. It happens every few years when something new or a bit better (or we hope it’s better) comes along. In addition to trying to figure out which new platform to join, or escape to, or beg an invitation to, a lot of people seem to give a lot of thought to how they will present themselves once they get there.

Some people take the opportunity of changing up their persona. New handle, picture, content, etc. Some people have built up a brand to one degree or another, so getting in as early as possible to claim their handle is important to maintain that brand across platforms. Still others keep their name, picture, etc., but post different content and/or behave differently depending on the platform and the community they’re among. Some people have multiple accounts for different uses. 

Companies engage in these calculations, too. Some spend millions of dollars to have third parties tell them who they should present themselves as to the world. Sometimes they do it more than once. Sometimes they only do it when they’ve really, REALLY screwed up.

Companies generally aim to have one strong, cohesive brand, so that limits options. Their presences are basically the same everywhere, from the colours and fonts to voice and vision. Consumers expect this. We don’t want surprises or random whimsy when we plan to spend money. Especially, as companies, our own millions.

A company will also have more restrictions on what they can say and do than the average person, particularly online. Legally, certainly. The industry they operate in will also have a certain culture that dictates norms. You’re unlikely to see too many financial services firms dunking on people like the Wendy’s Twitter account or rolling out terrible dad jokes. That’s what company Slack is for.

Occasionally a company will come along that does break the unwritten rules, or at least the status quo. It can be a good way to get attention, like a funeral home with hot pink hearses. Often its claim to fame will be that it fixes something that’s widely known to have long been broken in that industry, like customer service or the prevalence of hidden fees. 

These gimmicks and strategies can help a company get attention and grow quickly. It can even start to move the needle on consumers’ expectations for the whole industry. “This is who we are” can start to become, “This is who you need to become” for the competition. It’s a nice position to be in for as long as it lasts. 

Especially online, whether on social platforms or in startupland, being the Main Character is never a permanent position. The competition will catch up quicker than expected. With growth, companies start to see poorly and move slower. While consumers’ collective attention span is usually painfully short.

Issues of scale also set in, and whatever made it hip and radical will get diluted. Perhaps there’s an acquisition, and the product and brand will start to die deaths of a thousand cuts (after a dude or two is minted as a billionaire). Well, unless it’s immediately shut down for IP or to eliminate competition. Sadly, such companies will often still cling to that obsolete, hip branding. “Remember who we used to be? We still are! No, really.”

Like individuals deciding who they are socially on different platforms, companies also need to code switch with different communities and audiences. How Sales talks to prospects. How Support talks to customers. How executives talk to investors. Ultimately, for everyone involved, business comes down to, “What’s in it for me?” It’s the company’s job to give each group the best version of the answer they want.

Here again the cohesive branding is useful and employed to make the impression and messaging polished. But for some audiences the messaging has to convince them that “we will solve your problem” and with others it’s “we will make you money.” Regardless, the most important things are that the message resonates with the audience, and that it’s consistent. People want to remain confident that they know who they’re working with and that they’re going to get what they pay for. 

On social platforms, people have favourite accounts they follow for very specific, often very niche reasons. They may show up week after week to look for a small lizard in a posted photo. Or they may rely on an account’s reporting of severe weather conditions. If you’ve made the effort to develop and market your thing to the world, that you can deliver better than anyone, and you manage to get people’s attention, you now have a responsibility to continue to deliver consistently if you want to maintain those relationships. 

If you want to build that sort of brand, whether in business or on the socials, make sure you’re offering the right thing. The thing you want to offer and talk about and that you are best qualified for. Trying to pivot later if you get it wrong is perilous, particularly in business. 

Why enter an already crowded landscape just because it’s trendy and it looks like at least some players are making money? Haven’t you heard of diminishing returns? Are you really that special? (Surprisingly few companies learn this lesson.)

Define something new, build a great brand persona, develop real superpowers, build a truly loyal audience. Doesn’t that sound better than endlessly chasing?

Of course, plenty of companies miss the requirement of being able to clearly and confidently answer the question “What’s in it for me?” for their audiences, and they tend to just talk about themselves a whole lot. 

Thing is, if I tell you I’m great, you’re probably going to be a whole lot less inclined to believe me than if someone you know and respect tells you I’m great. Which they very well might have if I take the time to build up my great brand persona and some trust with my audience(s).

Better is focusing on what your company can do for its audiences. They’ll also be more likely to believe you’re great if the ways you tell them what’s in it for them match up with their biggest pain points, concerns about the future, short- and/or long-term goals, etc. They’ll know that you know the industry, the competition, the tech, and have clearly talked to companies like theirs. 

As a side note, frequent references to, comparisons with, or talking down about your competition does not enhance your company’s persona. It makes it look like you don’t have one and must resort to riffing off someone else’s. Focus on your audience and what you can do for them. If someone wants to know something specific about the competition, be able to answer if asked. Otherwise, you’re too busy building something great and delivering what you said you would to concern yourself much.

One other thing. What about the company’s own employees? Are they one of the valued audiences? Do they get a dedicated persona? They should, one with a lot of care and work put into it.

Your employees are one of those audiences you need to woo and keep wooing, build trust with, and continue making them want to do business with you. 

It’s a far more important consideration than a lot of companies realize, and too often it’s ignored while external groups are given priority. Or, sometimes, plenty of thought and effort is given to it, but the resulting decisions and actions are wrong. Most often because they’re not actually listening to that internal audience. The messages don’t resonate, don't answer real questions, and don’t assuage real concerns. 

The company’s success – hell, survival – rests on these people, and the company isn’t showing or telling employees what’s in it for them. 

And trying to fix it… well, remember how I said pivoting was perilous?

Whether internet citizens or companies aiming to grow, we can never just… be. We have to present ourselves the right way(s). The less the persona has to be crafted and manufactured, the easier it will be to inhabit and the more credible it will be for others. (Remember that, companies, when you’re spending your millions.) 

Doing it right isn’t all that hard. Start by doing less, at least at first. Take a minute. Look around. See what others are already doing. Think about what you’re best at. Learn about what others need and want. Read, watch, listen. Then start building.

Whether you’re trying to become the world’s most popular cat photo poster, or revolutionize how people post cat photos online, figuring out how to get there is fundamentally the same. Because humans are behind all of it.

"Communitech helps tech-driven companies start, grow and succeed. Communitech was founded in 1997 by a group of entrepreneurs committed to making Waterloo Region a global innovation leader. At the time it was crazy talk, but somehow this community managed to pull it off. Today, Communitech is a public-private innovation hub that supports a community of more than 1400 companies — from startups to scale-ups to large global players. Communitech helps tech companies start, grow and succeed in three distinct ways: - Communitech is a place – the center of gravity for entrepreneurs and innovators. A clubhouse for building cool shit and great companies. - Communitech delivers programs – helping companies at all stages with access to capital, customers and talent. We are here to help them grow and innovate. - Communitech partners in building a world-leading ecosystem – making sure we have all the ingredients (and the brand) to go from a small startup to a global giant."

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