Coke & Pepsi are very active in social media and I think their hard work is helping to build up a “trust bank” with their audience. As has been widely reported, Pepsi took their Superbowl ad budget and instead of creating a set of iconic commercials they launched their “Refresh Everything” campaign, in which they asked their audience to come up with ideas to “refresh the world”, in the categories of health, the planet, art & culture, food & shelter, neighborhoods and education. 

They are giving away over $30,000,000 in tranches of just over a million with individual  grants running from $5,000 to $250,000. The “fans” submit descriptions which are then posted on the site and voted for by the audience, after which Pepsi awards the money. The company does retain the control of what gets posted and funded, but it engages their market in an entirely new way.

I believe this is a very, 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 market and audience at large. The Refresh Everything Project is a bold experiment and I’m sure there are many skeptics, but I bet it not only pays for itself by being an incredibly efficient way to collect direct relationships with existing and new potential customers, but also helps to build good will toward the company.

Coca Cola also has been working in many different ways to create trust and relationship with their audience with social media. For example, Coke has the second most popular page on Facebook with over 5,000,000 fans, second only to President Obama. 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’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. Coke could have given coupons or other monetary consideration, but they felt a donation was a much better way to build relationships in this new medium. Coke believes that there is a lot more psychic gratification in gift giving than in a simple price-off coupon.

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 Nova Scotia to Nebraska. His hilarious video about the incident and United’s indifference has been viewed over 8,000,000 times and reported widely around the world. I believe part of the reason this video was popular is that they have very little in their “trust bank” with their customers. In contrast, when Kevin Smith, the iconic director of the popular movie Clerks, who has over 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 which I believe was due to the large trust bank Southwest has with their customers.

Given the ubiquitous, uncontrollable, and growing power of social media, all firms should be asking themselves:

  • How deep is our trust bank?
  • How can you improve it?

I’d love to hear what you think what companies can do with gifting and other means to increase their trust bank.

Image source: Senor Adventure

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