Today’s guest post is written by Lief Larson.

Why do people (ethical PR and marketing professionals in particular) generally hate “spin” so much?

Because spin is not honest and people don’t want to feel they are being deceived.

PR professionals (the good ones) disdain it because the spin-like practices of the few reflect badly on the entire profession. And marketing practitioners (again, the good ones) avoid it because they understand that building trust is essential to long-term business success.

In the offline world, we can often assess people and decide if we want to trust them by asking them questions. We can learn a bit about their backgrounds, and watch their eyes and body language.

In the online world, this is more difficult. 

How can you build trust through your corporate website? How can you show your visitors the people standing behind your claims about your product or service (which are often similar to what your competitors say) are real, smart, and helpful people? How can you encourage interaction so site visitors can verify this for themselves?

Recognizing the need to answer questions in real time and encourage interaction, many organizations have added online chat options to their websites.

The problem is, these tools often don’t build trust. They can even do the opposite. That’s inherent in the nature of most online chat tools.

  • You may or may not have the option to initiate a chat. Often, a window just pops up, interrupting your browsing, asking you to chat.
  • These chat tools use a “track and ambush” approach. By logging your IP address, it watches your behavior on the site, then pops up once it “knows” what you are looking for.
  • You know nothing about the person on the other end of the chat, except perhaps a first name (maybe real, maybe not). You don’t know who they are, where they are, or anything about their background or knowledge.

Like spin, this approach to online interaction doesn’t build trust.

There is a better approach. Combine existing technology (social media profiles, live video chat, and search) with a different philosophical approach (putting the site visitor in control) and you will build trust which, over time, builds business.

Putting your best people forward (through rich social profiles) and letting your visitors decide if they want to interact – when, with whom, and how – leads to true customer engagement.

Specific keys to increasing customer engagement on your website are:

  1. Make your key people “findable” on your website and elsewhere on the web. Help your prospective customers find a real person in your organization to connect with—not just an 800 number and generic “contact us” form.
  2. Get your key people active in social media, which tells prospects something about them and fosters engagement.
  3. Give prospects options for how they want to engage (voice, chat, video, etc.). If you’re buying a house, you may not want to be friends with your realtor on Facebook—but a realtime video tour of a house you’re interested in would be cool.

So rethink chat. Just as ethical PR activities build trust in the market over time, so an inviting (not ambushing) approach to online visitor engagement builds trust, one prospective customer at a time. Both lead to shorter sales cycles and long term business success.

Lief Larson is a career entrepreneur, technologist, and futurist, as well as founder and president of Workface, a customer engagement platform provider. He was named #8 on Entrepreneur Magazine’s “Top 10 American Entrepreneurs Under 30” and writes frequently for industry publications and on the Workface blog.