Trust. It’s something that any company, of any size, needs to build with its customers, clients and prospects. It’s the cornerstone of a good relationship and a must if you want to build a brand that is liked and respected aka brand trust.
For this very reason marketers everywhere are always looking for new ways to create more trust while still standing out from the pack. And it’s a good idea to do that. Research from Edelman shows that consumers are placing an ever increasing expectation of responsibility on brands.
Sometimes, however, these efforts to stand out can backfire, and in a spectacular way. Even if they are being spearheaded by one of the best-known marketing companies in the world. Case in point, outdoor living brand North Face’s recent run-in with Wikipedia.
According to Moz, Wikipedia’s domain authority is among the highest of all on the Worldwide Web in general. And of course it is. There is no advertising allowed, no way to SEO your way ‘up to the top’, no ever changing search algorithm to master, no marketing. Wikipedia is a respected source of knowledge about, well, everything.
In fact, it can be a real annoyance for marketers, as they often find themselves competing in the SERPs with Wikipedia. And as their chances of ranking above such a well-respected site are very slim, some occasionally attempt to co-opt Wikipedia’s popularity and inherent trust factor in various ways.
The North Face, a well known US-based outdoor recreation product and clothing company, recently teamed up with marketing agency Leo Burnett Tailor Made – a big name – for what seemed like a brilliant initiative: taking high-quality photos of athletes in North Face gear at notable locations all over the world, then uploading them as featured pictures for the pages covering those landmarks on Wikipedia.
Now, as anyone can edit a Wikipedia page, this is easy to do. And if the images are good, it’s unlikely other editors will see a need to change or take them down. And the idea worked in a very simple way.
Wikipedia users would search for information about a National Park, state and city natural monuments and similar things. When they clicked on the page result, they would see one of the images placed on behalf of North Face.
This was seemingly great for a couple of reasons. Besides the powerful authority for an image hosted on wikipedia.org helping these graphics rank highly in image searches, there’s also the connection created in the searcher’s mind when they see the North Face brand embedded in photos of these beautiful places.
For a while, it seemed to work, as explained in this AdAge article. But when Wikipedia’s moderators became aware of the scheme, they were none too pleased. Unsurprisingly, this kind of activity goes against the non-profit website’s terms of service.
“Adding content that is solely intended to promote a company or its products goes against the spirit, purpose and policies of Wikipedia to provide neutral, fact-based knowledge to the world. It exploits a free public learning platform for corporate gain,” said a representative from the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit that runs Wikipedia.
Wikipedia’s editors removed the offending images while also publically shaming the brand across social media. North Face issued an apology, but it was too little, too late. In their effort to gain brand trust and recognition by earning high search placements and associating (indirectly) with the Wikipedia name, North Face and its agency fell on, pardon the pun, their own faces and trust in the integrity of their brand has been damaged, if not for good then for quite a while.
So how can you avoid breaking trust instead of building it? Here’s a look at some of the most effective ways.
Do Things for the Right Reasons
As the study mentioned earlier proves, consumers WANT to trust and respect brands. They want to like them for doing good things and being honest. And you can’t ‘black-hat’ your way into brand trust.
Consumers are savvy. If you are publishing content just to rank higher in the SERPs, today’s consumer will realize that, and take away the message that you don’t care about them, you just want to please a search bot. So they’ll go elsewhere. And here’s the irony. Because that will lead to a higher bounce rate and lower engagement, the search bots will demote your site in search.
So do things for the right reasons. Yes, include your keywords in your content, but in a way that still informs, engages and offers something useful. Was there a reason for North Face’s actions other than to gain a shady SERPs boost? Maybe there was, but they’ll have a very difficult time trying to convince consumers of that.
Don’t Try Too Hard
You want to connect with your audience. You want to be relatable and offer them content that is relevant to them and to demonstrate that you understand what they want. All of this is admirable. What you don’t want to do however is come across like this:
If you don’t understand it, don’t write about it. If it does not fit the rest of your brand image don’t attempt to weigh in on a debate just to look cool, or to latch on to a current news story or trending hashtag. Stick to what you know, and if you have targeted your audience correctly, you’ll be fine.
While we are on the subject of target audiences however, be careful how you make use of the data you gather. Writer, professor and video game developer Dr Ian Bogost wrote a piece for The Atlantic entitled Brands Are Not Our Friends. In it he detailed an experience he had with the Steak-Ums food company.
According to Bogost the company sent him a Twitter DM to sign a petition as part of the company’s tongue-in-cheek campaign to become verified on Twitter. When he learned that he’d been targeted for inclusion by software that had analyzed his location, interests, and social media usage habits, it made him a bit uncomfortable. And no longer a fan of sandwich steaks.
The point of his article is that brands can’t be consumer’s friends and they should not try to be. It’s creepy and inauthentic. What they can be however is likeable, relatable, trustworthy advocates who sympathize with their audience. And that’s what you should try to do.
Don’t Fake Anything
It’s easy to get people to leave fake reviews for your brand. It’s easy to game platforms like Yelp! And Google My Business (even though they say it isn’t, it is.) It’s easy to pay for positive comments on social media. And for a while, you won’t get found out.
Eventually, however you will. You may not make the pages of a big publication like AdAge when you do, but your website visitors and social media fans and followers will notice, and they’ll start to fall away. And tell their friends.
There are lots of white hat ways to build your SERPs rankings without losing the brand trust of your customers and prospects. The best ones even build trust. Want to discover what they are? Get in touch, we’ll explain.