In my last post, I pointed out how professional networks online are not based on friendship and trust, but rather on the sharing of deep knowledge between participants, whether individuals or institutions. Respect and influence are good words to use to describe the outcomes of sharing knowledge within a professional social network. So is credibility.
David Meerman Scott recently discussed this idea in rich detail during an interview he gave about his book: “The New Rules of Marketing & PR.” One situation he describes captures the influence cycle well:
“First, put away your company hat for a moment and think like one of your buyer personas. The content that you create will be a solution to those people’s problems and will not mention your company or products at all! Imagine for a moment that you are a marketer at a Sales Force Automation (SFA) provider. Rather than just peddling your SFA solution, you might write an e-book or shoot a video about shortening the sales cycle, and then promote it on your site and offer it for free to other organizations (such as industry associations) to put on their sites.”
This rings true on so many levels. No matter what social channel is part of the larger strategy, information must be shared in meaningful ways and make a solid contribution to the industry in order to be credible. Credibility + opportunity = sales. This is true offline and online.
Business credibility is not the same as social trust and friendship. Professionals online take their cues about a person or company based on a number of elements. Is this author (company or person) “legitimate” – do they have the background to support their statements or assertions? Are other professionals influenced by this source? Who is connected to this person or company as a buyer? Is the context for sharing information appropriate for the audience?
This last item is especially important. To take a small personal example, I belong to a number of professional online communities. It is not uncommon for their connection function to use the wrong nomenclature. On one CEO group where I am a member, requesting a connection to another member delivers a message that reads: “Vanessa DiMauro wants to be your friend.” How awkward is that? It evokes the image of a child holding a ball on the playground looking for playmates, and feels laughably wrong for an executive audience. I cringe every time I send or receive a connection. The point is — I don’t want to be their friend, I want to connect collegially and exchange specific knowledge and information of professional value. The unfortunate choice of nomenclature undermines the seriousness of purpose embodied in this community. It’s another hurdle to establishing credibility.
The Online Credibility Index or SLOTS
One way to assess the credibility of professional social network efforts is to measure the effectiveness and professionalism of various contacts and information. My colleague Ryck Lent and I have been developing a way to identify online credibility. The best place to start is with your own efforts — individual or organizational. The Online Credibility Index is derived through a set of social steps and checks that can place you into a credibility bucket. Call it your SLOTS rating.
- Site Rating Does this site or blog receive solid traffic? To be sure, niche industries will rarely drive the traffic at big company levels, but even so, does a particular site show well compared to peers?
- LinkedIN Checking profiles for background and overlapping relationships. Does this person’s profile demonstrate expertise? Is anyone I know and trust connected to this person?
- Offline presence covered online It’s still a real world. Much of a company’s or professional’s best work happens face-to-face as a speaker at industry conferences, during client interactions or hosting thoughtful informal conversations. Does this company’s or person’s offline persona warrant online exposure? Are they good enough to be reported on via the social web?
- Twitter Check to see if this person or company is appropriate and relevant. Too often Twitter is misused by professionals who treat it informally. A quick scan of a twitter stream can reveal inappropriate commentary, a likelihood of confidentiality breaches (“great sales call with XYZ! Or “working on … insert confidential innovation project here.”) Now that the Library of Congress is proposing to archive all public tweets — look out!
- Sentiment analysis What is the public’s opinion of your company or brand? Open web search tools enable anyone to find out what others are saying about you, and from those results infer the quality of your impact and relationships in the industry. The result is a quick, crowd-sourced thumbs-up or thumbs-down on your — or your company or brand’s — professional reputation.
Most of us care what other people think of us. But trust and “friends” are no substitute for professional credibility. The SLOTS online credibility index is a tool for understanding your online professional credibility in a more rigorous, structured fashion than simply counting product “fans”, professional connections or review stars.
For more insight into how credibility is assessed online, here is a recent scholarly articles that discuss this topic:
Measuring Consumer Perceptions Of Credibility, Engagement, Interactivity And Brand Metrics Of Social Network Sites (PDF)