Coke and Pepsi are very active in social media, and I think their hard work is helping to build up a bank of trust with their audiences.
As has been widely reported, Pepsi decided not to use its Super Bowl ad budget to try to create a set of iconic commercials. Instead, it used it to launch its "Refresh Everything" campaign in which it asked its "fans" to come up with ideas to "refresh the world" in the categories of health, the planet, art and culture, food and shelter, neighborhoods, and education. Fans submit descriptions of their ideas. Pepsi screens and posts them on the website. Visitors vote on them. Then, after considering the votes, Pepsi selects which ones to fund. Grants ranging from $5,000 to $250,000, and Pepsi plans to spend a total of $15.6 million on the year-long program, which ends next January.
I believe this kind of campaign is a very smart move because in the wild and woolly world of social media, where brands can be skewered overnight, the only true protection is to have a great relationship with the audience at large.
Coca-Cola also has been working in many different ways to use social media to create trusting customer relationships. For example, Coke has the second most popular page on Facebook (after President Obama's) with more than 5 million fans. Coke's Facebook presence was started by Dusty and Michael, an actor and screenwriter from Los Angeles who together had gathered a few hundred thousand fans on their Facebook page dedicated to everything Coke. Instead of trying to wrest control of the effort from them, Coke smartly decided to join them and build on the existing audience.
During this past Super Bowl, Coke partnered with Facebook to inspire fans to send digital gifts to friends and, in return, donated $1 for each gift sent to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America with which Coke has had a 64-year relationship. Coke could have given coupons or other monetary consideration, but it felt that the psychic gratification generated by the donations was a much better way to build relationships in this new medium.
Firms who don't have a strong trust bank risk being skewered by disgruntled customers. I've written about how musician Dave Carroll had his favorite Taylor guitar broken by United Airlines while on a flight from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Nebraska. His hilarious video about the incident and United's indifference has been viewed more than 8.5 million times and reported widely around the world. I believe part of the reason this video was so popular is that United had very little in its customer-trust bank.
In contrast, when Kevin Smith, the iconic director of the popular movie Clerks, who has more than a million followers on Twitter, was refused a seat on a Southwest Airlines flight, there were many people in the social media sphere who came to Southwest's defense. In my view, that's because Southwest has built a large bank of customer trust.
Given the ubiquitous, uncontrollable, and growing power of social media, all firms should be asking themselves: How deep is our trust bank? How can we improve it?
I'd love to hear what you think companies should do to increase their trust banks.
John Sviokla is vice chairman of Diamond Management & Technology Consultants, Inc. He is a former professor at Harvard Business School in marketing, MIS, and decision sciences. Click here to read his previous blogs...Harvard Business Review