You know what they say: if it's posted on the Internet, it must be true.
Wait a second...no one says that all!
In fact, we live in an era of information overload, where people are more disinclined to believe what they read and see than ever before.
With so much distrust of traditional media outlets and social media echo chambers, we need to be more careful than ever before we post content online.
The last thing any small business wants is to post, share, or re-tweet content that's considered to be inaccurate, conducive to skepticism, or just plain wrong. Whether you're just starting a new small business or have an existing small business that's already a thriving part of the local community, posting content that inspires distrust is a sure way to damage the reputation of your business in the long run.
To inject your blog with credence and credibility, use the following techniques and strategies.
Statistics, Studies, Trends, Research, and Data Analysis
It's one thing to make a claim, and another to make a claim backed up with hard data. For example, if I ran a health blog, I could claim to my audience that Americans need to make some drastic changes to their diet and eating habits. But if I'm a small business owner that sells dietary supplements and offers content that educates visitors how to eat better, lose weight, and improve nutrition, that claim may be misconstrued as an opinion or a thinly veiled scare tactic to push more products.
After all, without any hard data behind it, that statement doesn't really hold water. To improve your credibility, it's better to link to sources and statistics that back up your claim.
For example, I could instead say that many Americans need to be more conscious of diet and nutrition because approximately 38% of Americans are obese, and nearly 8% of Americans are extremely obese.
Notice that I not only used statistics to get my point across, but I also linked to another credible story, further establishing my expertise and improving my blog's authority on the subject.
You'll also notice that the link opens in a new window - giving the user the ability to read the article, and upon closing it they've still got my page open in their browser. In WordPress this is done with a simple click (see image below). In other platforms, you may have to add this code to your link to get it to open in a new window/tab;
<a href="http://link-to-site.com" target="_blank">this is your link text</a>
Use Appropriate Language to Convey Authority
Whether you create video content, textual content, or anything in between, there's a lot of power behind the words you choose. Your words are so powerful that you can influence readers on a subconscious level, whether you knew it or not, so it's best to make definite claims and write with authority where appropriate.
Now, I'm not suggesting that you make jaw-droppingly spectacular claims about your product or service that you can't deliver. However, if you write with authority and back up your claims with statistics and studies, it will be much easier to drive your point across to your audience.
Consider the two following claims that follow the health blog example. Note that the first is weak, though the second example conveys strength, knowledge, and authority to the audience:
Americans should stop eating high amounts of sugar, because it is unhealthy.
Sure, that makes sense, but can you expound on this statement without adding 'fluff'?
American men should limit sugar intake to less than 36 grams per day (9 teaspoons), and American women should eat no more than 20 grams (six teaspoons) per day for two reasons. Not only is sugar linked with risk factors that increase the likelihood of type two diabetes, such as problematic insulin sensitivity issues, but sugar has also been linked with obesity.
Clearly, the second example is more definitive, and is stronger, clearer, and more authoritative writing. The first example is far too vague, due mainly to it's use of subjective terminology. What's “unhealthy” to one person may not be considered “unhealthy” to another, so the term means different things to different people.
This same practice is important for your overall blog headlines. They should be compelling, accurate and intriguing. They should not, however, contain phrases that seem outrageous. This practice, known as linkbaiting, is frowned upon nowadays, and creates a situation where the end user usually doesn't 'feel satisfied' that you delivered on your promise.
For example: Seven Sugary Snacks That Will Help You Lose 5 Pounds By Tomorrow Night
Be More Assertive and Committal, and Use the Active Voice
It's not only what you say, it's how you say it.
Even though this old adage applies to body posture, nonverbal communication, and tone of voice, it also applies to the assertiveness of your writing style and writing voice. Modern readers frequently skim content, and can quickly root out someone who lacks confidence.
Avoid weak and noncommittal language, such as the following weak examples:
- I think that...
- I feel that...
- Prefacing a sentence with “maybe” or “perhaps” to hedge your claim.
- Using opinions where facts are needed.
Instead of using noncommittal language that's weak and floppy, employ the following techniques:
- Use the active voice as much as possible, because it packs a punch and is more concise. Conversely, the passive voice is much weaker and wordier.
- Be as precise as possible. It's better to use quantifiable data as opposed to qualifiers.
Take the High Road
Yet another mistake unexperienced marketers and small businesses make is choosing the low road instead of taking the high road. Look, if you have any significant presence on social media, you're going to attract the attention of jerks, whether you like it or not. It isn't possible to please everyone, and justified or not, once in a while someone will post a nasty or offensive comment in an attempt to incite anger.
But don't stoop to their level and let them drag your business through the mud. Once a comment is posted on the Internet, it's virtually eternal, even if you manage to delete the post immediately after instant regret.
These types of mistakes can come back to haunt you for years, causing your credibility and reputation to crumble into dust. When in doubt, it's better to moderate comments that don't have anything to do with your content, product, or service, or to address them with a professional attitude.
If/when you get a bad or inaccurate review for your product/service, take a deep breath and maybe even wait a day or two before responding.
Your best bet for a bad review is to publicly apologize for the situation, and offer a reasonable resolution. Whether they take you up on the offer is besides the point - other readers will see that you tried your best to make the situation right. This will go a long way to build trust with potential customers that are reading through your reviews.
Credibility isn't only a factor of clear, concise language and cogent arguments based on facts and critical thinking. There is also a social factor, and once your social reputation has been broken, it's difficult to put it back together again.
No matter what industry your business operates in, you can bet that you're going to have competition with an established online presence. As such, you need to strive to create authoritative and credible content that increases brand engagement withstands the test of time. Otherwise, you may look like an untrustworthy basement-blogger instead of a credible and reputable business.