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Post-election: Two things you must do with your expertise

- Ryan Hanser is president of Hanser & Associates

What happens when people aren’t listening or don’t trust the answer? Who gets their attention? Who do they trust?

These are important questions to ask because attention and trust fuel business recommendations and purchases. These are also important questions because America appears to be witnessing the death of expertise and the collapse of institutional trust.

People researching declining trust reinforce that we still have knowledgeable specialists. The trouble is that people are rejecting the authority of expertise. Moreover, a majority of us do not have faith in institutions – government, business, nongovernmental organizations and media – to do what is right.

Instead, research says we live in a self-referential world where Google, Facebook and other online destinations are relied upon to soothe skepticism and affirm bias. Beyond our continued trust in friends and family, we increasingly seek out the people who resemble ourselves. Almost universally, we trust peer recommendations online.

The initial reactions to these trends – a push for transparency in all sorts of institutions and advocacy for ‘the marketplace of ideas’ where the important news will find you – held fast to the idea that the public cared about facts. However, data suggests that what people most care about is fulfilling our need to belong – to be accepted and connected.

Here are two key considerations for businesses navigating an information landscape where experts and institutions are viewed with increasing skepticism.

Fundamentally, remember that expertise remains vital in business, and people expect you to lead. Take a look at Edelman’s Trust Barometer that shows a 19-point gap in business trust between those who are and aren’t tuned into media and the growing position for business as a trusted American institution. 

Businesses have the social license to lead – a strong position to address issues that matter to commerce and society. Cause-related marketing will only go so far. Work to keep your organization’s value visible, and make your experts as human as possible.

Next, understand and harness word of mouth. You must give employees, partners and, especially, customers the permission and encouragement to talk about your company. Make sure your spokespeople closely resemble your customers.

Treat influence as an inverted pyramid, spreading across the population and an array of publishing platforms. Look at Ed Keller’s research on the rising share of online word of mouth; search and social media are major drivers of purchase consideration. It’s not all about the Internet either. Look at Paul Adams’ work on influence and social networks; he finds “the people who connect groups are not special” and suggests marketers focus on these small, connected groups.

You have a lot more customers than you do CEOs, and these customers have a large network to whom their opinion matters. When done correctly, word of mouth marketing is a measurable approach to building a business in the short and long term.

A public relations mentor long ago made my evergreen counsel clear and simple: First, do the right thing. Then, talk about it.

As we look to 2017 with scarcer attention and trust, I must reinforce the second point: make sure you have the right people talking.

Ryan Hanser is an accredited public relations professional delivering integrated communication services globally from his firm’s office in West Des Moines. You can reach him at 515.229.3737 and ryan@hanser.com 


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