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Blog: Can social media increase trust in business?

It was Responsible Businesses Week last week and companies across the UK took the opportunity to talk about the good things they do.

Social media played a big part in communicating this and so I’m digging into the impact social media can have and whether it can help build public confidence in business.


The landscape

59% of UK adults have at least one active social media account – that’s 38m people – and it’s continuing to grow year-on-year. Whether on our computers at work or mobiles pretty much everywhere, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and many others have become part of our daily lives.

Making the most of this is a real opportunity for businesses to influence how they are perceived.

59% of UK adults have at least one active social media account

The vast majority of big businesses (94%) have a social media presence and, on average, use three different platforms. Some evidence suggests though that companies in the UK lag behind those in the US in terms of performance on social media.

In our experience of The Great Business Debate we have worked with a full spectrum of companies — from those that fully embrace social media to those that are more nervous and reluctant.

What then are the real benefits to a business of using social media, and what are the difficulties and the risks? Additionally, how can it be used to influence public trust?


What are the benefits?

Businesses use social media for different reasons:

  • Promoting the brand – there are huge audiences on these channels who can be exposed to your company’s messages
  • Driving sales – benefit from exposure and the way targeted audiences can be reached
  • Customer service – providing new channels for engagement that are quick and easy
  • Recruitment – sell yourself as an employer and find the best people to work with you
  • Employee engagement – give those that work for you something to engage with and be proud about


Nobody said it was easy

Getting it right can be challenging though.

At an event we held in February this year, David Bird of energy company E.ON said one of the hardest things with using social media for customer engagement is that you have so much coming in from different places that it becomes extremely difficult to track and manage:

The days of a single customer phone line are over and people have become accustomed to being able to get in touch using whatever platform they are on and expect a swift response – 72% say they expect a reply within one hour on Twitter.

Being good at social media often means being quick

Another challenge is that the social media landscape is constantly evolving. New platforms arise and replace others. Businesses need to allow their teams managing this the freedom to be responsive in a fast moving environment whilst also maintaining control and oversight.

Additionally there are the inevitable risks of slip-ups and embarrassing faux pas. Being good at social media often means being quick – whether at responding to negative challenges or at taking advantage of positive opportunities. This means that approval structures need to be slick and flexible and bypass the usual levels of internal sign-off. Mistakes can be embarrassing for companies, but they are rarely critical and can often be turned around with good humour.


Should you be scared?

There are risks, for sure.

But for businesses choosing not to fully commit to social media one thing is certain: your company will be being talked about whether or not you are there yourselves.

If you choose to opt out, there are risks like “brand-jacking” – where someone (intentionally or unintentionally) sets up a presence that people think represents you.

Whilst some people will complain about you, many will be saying good things and with the right approach you can magnify this

If you’re scared about what sort of response you will get when you start engaging remember, whilst some people will complain about you, many will be saying good things and with the right approach you can magnify this.

Being present, sharing the positive stories and responding effectively to the negative gives you a real opportunity to promote your company positively. This can improve your brand, your standing with customers, generate sales and make your employees proud. In addition, social media can allow you to be more accessible, open and transparent which can help increase trust in what you do and demonstrate that you are a responsible business.


Looking forward

Using social media and digital communications for just about any business is extremely important. However, it needs to be done properly:

  1. it should be incorporated into company strategy covering marketing and PR, sales, customer service and employee engagement, and not treated as a separate strand;
  2. it needs appropriate levels of investment to make sure you have the right people and the right tools.

What’s your view? Are businesses in the UK using social media in the best way possible? Can it be better used to improve public confidence?



Anthony in office Feb 2015_800x400Anthony Robinson is Communications Manager for The Great Business Debate. Follow him on Twitter @robinsontony.




Thanks to the below websites for providing the statistics used in this piece:

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