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Think BR: Building reputational capital

In this exclusive extract from her book Webs of Influence, web psychologist Nathalie Nahai examines how brands can build reputational capital.

Domino's Pizza: monitors social media

Domino's Pizza: monitors social media

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The story of Domino's Pizza


Domino’s Pizza actively monitors social media channels to track its customers’ comments about its pizzas - and a good job, too. In 2009 the company quickly realised that people were very unhappy with the poor quality of their food. Instead of spinning a story, as other companies might have done, Domino’s decided to listen to its critics and, using their feedback, created new pizza recipes to turn the pizza experience around.

Here’s the genius part. To communicate this transformation, Domino’s launched an integrated online campaign called the ‘Pizza Turnaround’, which included a documentary-style video where it showed company officials reacting to the original criticisms. By showing that it cared enough to listen to and act on its customers’ concerns, Dominos saw an immediate impact. In the first quarter of 2010, its sales in the USA were up 14.3%  year-on-year – the biggest ever jump in sales in the fast-food industry.

It’s not just the big companies that can benefit from a bit of customer engagement and word of mouth. According to Nielsen’s ‘Global trust in advertising and brand messages report’, 92% of us say we trust ‘earned media’, such as personal recommendations from our friends and family, more than any other kind of advertising. Online consumer reviews come a close second, with 70% of us trusting the brand information we find there - which should come as no surprise, given that we’re all a bit partial to social proof.

If you’re looking to pitch via mobile devices, however, it’s a different story. Here, only a third of us around the world trust video or banner ads and, while this figure does seem to be on the rise, it’s not worth blowing your budget on these kinds of adverts just yet.

It’s interesting to note that, while our trust in online advertising seems to be increasing (perhaps due to younger demographics?), our confidence in traditional paid media, such as TV, magazines and newspapers, is on the decline, though still significant enough for companies to warrant huge spends in this area.

Word of mouth


Ask any marketer and they’ll tell you that when it comes to increasing your sales, you can’t beat word of mouth referrals. Not only does it appeal to businesses because it appears more credible but also it doesn’t cost much to acquire new customers in this way.

One study investigating strategies for generating electronic referrals (ereferrals), found that offering the referrer and referee the same size of incentive led to the highest increase in referrals. The second highest increase came from offering the referrer more than the referee.

Whereas pre-Internet referrals usually happened organically via conversations between friends and acquaintances, online word of mouth referrals have a far larger reach. These e-referrals can take the form of e-mails, blog comments, tweets and instant messages and can spread virally among strangers if the product or service at the centre of that referral is relevant and persuasive enough.

In one of the largest research studies to date, Facebook’s data team decided to explore the phenomenon of word of mouth referrals head on by examining how information spreads through a social network. Until recently, the leading theory was that the Internet encourages us to cluster into selfvalidating in-groups of ‘people like us’.

This idea - that similarity breeds connection - is instrumental in the way in which we form our social networks, both on- and offline. From this you could reasonably expect to see online groups seeking out, sharing and consuming the same kinds of information with each other across social platforms, but what the researchers actually found, was something quite different.

By observing how 253 million Facebook users interacted with the 75 million links they shared, the team discovered that people’s weakest ties were actually the most influential. In fact, you’re ten times more likely to share a link that one of your weak ties has posted than one posted by a close friend.

Why? Because the people you know less well are more likely to share novel information with you. Compare this to links and information that you and your group normally share (which, due to your similar interests you’re already likely to have seen) and you’ll see why our weak ties are collectively responsible for the majority of information spread. We’re novelty-seeking Internet users, so those weak ties provide us with an indispensable source of new information.

Automatic word of mouth 

  • Tell a friend You can leverage this phenomenon by using ‘tell a friend’ calls to action on your website or requiring your customers to ‘tweet this link’ to unlock the product they’re wishing to download. Using such a lock can be a very powerful way of sending your blog, website or campaign viral and yet you can download the code for a small amount at websites like CodeCanyon. Enforced word of mouth referrals may not appeal to all of your visitors, but they will certainly capture some and help spread the word about your business and its services.

Can I trust you?


As we shall see in Chapter 19, one of the biggest barriers to acquiring new customers online is persuading them that they can trust you. Knowing which websites and sources you can rely on is already a tricky task, but it’s one that is made even harder by the sheer volume of sites that are out there.

While we do have filters to help us choose which information to tune in to, such as circles of friends, trusted news sources and established blogs, we’re a curious bunch and will still stumble across new websites for which we have little frame of reference. How can we tell if the information on that fabulous new tech website is credible? How can your users know to trust yours?

In general, when we’re looking for information we can depend on, we tend to trust people we believe to be credible. As we saw earlier in Chapter 14, the mere appearance of credibility can have a massive influence on whether we trust someone or not. When we are trying to assess someone’s credibility online, though, we tend to be more influenced by the source credits of the institution (such as the website) than by the creators themselves. So, how can you increase your credibility online?

Psychologists consider credibility to be a perceived quality, one that can be summarised as follows:

Trustworthiness + Expertise = Credibility

In the real world, we tend to rely on markers such as character, competence, influence and sociability to assess whether someone is credible or not. Whilst we like to think of ourselves as reasonable and fair-minded, psychologists have found a profound bias in the way that we assign credibility. We tend to consider members of our ‘in-group’ (our circle of friends, work team, family) as more credible than people from ‘out-groups’ (people outside of our social circles).

What’s more, when we’re online, we apply these same principles to virtual agents or avatars, even though they’re entirely inanimate projections. This alone has huge implications when it comes to boosting your website’s credibility. It means that if you can identify some of your visitors’ characteristics, such as the way that they look, dress, speak and gesture, you can use this information to create an avatar that mirrors these traits, thus creating a sense of familiarity and, by extension, credibility. It will also save your visitors the time and effort it would take them to seek out peripheral credibility cues, such as links to official partner websites and testimonials.

Make this work for you


Keep it credible

  • Overall credibility Increase your website’s overall credibility by incorporating design elements such as a balanced layout and cool colour tones. While the effects of colour are subject to cultural differences, this is something you can leverage by analysing your target demographic to isolate and use the elements that increase perceived credibility for that particular market.
  • Source credibility Boost your website’s source credibility by including links to other reputable websites and highlighting any institutional credentials or quality rating awards you might have. For example, if you’re a Zagat-rated restaurant, make sure that you show this award in your header or sidebar – somewhere that’s easy for new visitors to see.
  • Collaborate Team up with other credible sources in your field. If you work in collaboration with other businesses in your industry, form a guild and support one another by publicising your group on your website. You can do this by creating a badge or logo that each business within the group will add to its profile or website. You can even set up a collaborative blog or LinkedIn group to add credibility across platforms.
  • Association Identify industry-leading websites and write for them. Show your potential customers that you know your field so well you’re writing guest posts for the heavyweights. If you’re a designer, write a guest post for Mashable or Smashing Magazine. By associating yourself with a well-respected online institution, you will not only increase your own personal credibility but you’ll also be broadcasting your expertise to an entirely new audience of potential customers.
  • Show you’re legit If you run a non-profit, governmental or educational website, make sure you obtain the relevant URL suffix to reassure users of your legitimacy (such as .org, .gov and .edu or .ac).
  • Testimonials Collect and showcase real testimonials from satisfied customers on your website. By doing so, you’ll be showing new clients that you can deliver and that others trust you. When it comes to credibility, a little bit of social proof can go a long, long way.

Focus on content


In one study investigating the importance of content versus design on a website’s credibility, some interesting findings emerged. Users visiting a website to research information or products were more likely to pay attention to the website’s content than to the way in which it was presented.

In this category, the accuracy, usefulness, clarity and focus of a website’s information was most important, along with the writing tone, privacy and customer service. In contrast, regular visitors
whose visits were less short-lived, were more likely to notice the design, readability, functionality and perceived security of the website. While it’s impossible for your website to appeal to everyone, nonetheless, you can increase your website’s success by making sure that you stick to the following rules.

Make this work for you


Clean and clear

  • Clarity Whatever industry you are in, make sure you use clear, concise, spellchecked language on your website. Avoid lengthy reels of text at all costs. Where necessary, supply dropdown boxes if extra information is required. 
  • Tone The writing style of your website should reflect your business and the expectations of your customers. For example, if you are a corporate bank that provides services to high net worth individuals, your tone should reflect your clients’ concern for privacy, discretion and security. 
  • Easy to read While the design of your website will depend largely on its function and purpose, it should nevertheless be easy to read, navigate and search through. Your clients should be able to find what they’re looking for in as little time and with as few clicks as possible.

Nathalie Nahai, web psychologist and author of Webs of influence



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