Seaworld’s online response is impressive–building trust with social media

February 26, 2010

The Orlando Sentinel pointed out how SeaWorld is using online media to respond to the media and public reaction to the death of one of it trainers by a killer whale.  The organization’s blog demonstrates both the opportunity and the risks of using these very open, transparent and interactive channels for communicating. Unfortunately, those with strong feelings about using trained animals for entertainment purposes take full and insensitive advantage of these opportunities to press their agenda. What communicators need to do is to prepare the organization’s management that this is exactly the sort of thing that will happen and while it needs to be monitored and not get out of control, showing this willingness to participate and provide a venue for that discussion is very important today.

This example is timely related to a mashable article that Mr. Malley forwarded to me, about building trust with social media. While I consider it still much more art than science, there is no doubt that social media is an increasingly important means and opportunity for organizations to build trust. But if science helps us understand the reasons behind what we intuitively sense is right, it is more than helpful.

One very important point made in this article is the value of speed. Responsiveness as seen in speed of response is critical when dealing with text (not having advantage of personal interaction). Here is the relevant quote:

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.

Stephen M. R. Covey wrote the Speed of Trust, and now here is more evidence that speed and trustworthiness are related. This is so critical to understand because I keep running into communicators and their bosses who think that you can’t get out with anything until you have it absolutely right and complete. Having it right is critical, but you will never ever be complete, so you have to go with what you know right now. It is SOOO much better to say: “These are the facts that we can confirm right now, these are things we know are being said and reported but we cannot confirm that they are facts, but as soon as we verify them we will let you know.”

But, but, but, you say, that doesn’t read like a press release. Exactly.

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