Social media isn’t just for meeting people; amid the emoticons and funny cat pictures, there is a real opportunity for businesses to connect with their customers on a personal level. Social media marketing is unlike any form of marketing that’s come before, in that it relies on inbound traffic rather than outbound advertising. Those companies that know how to properly utilize Facebook are in a unique position to build lasting trust with those on whom their business is built. Here are five ways that you can improve brand trust through Facebook.

1. Start talking

We’ve already addressed that social media marketing is something completely different from conventional marketing, but let’s discuss why. See, conventional marketing is a one-way street; the business contacts the potential customer via advertisements, but the customer has no reliably direct way to contact the business.

With social media (and Facebook in particular) those restrictions absolutely disappear. This can be a bit scary for the businesses that dread having to communicate with customers on equal footing, but it can also be very rewarding. Informal?yet still appropriate and respectful conversations with regular people will help humanize your business in the eyes of your customers, and will help them see you as a friend, rather than as a faceless entity bent on swindling them out of their money.

Here are a few ways to get the conversation started:

  • Ask a question. If there’s one thing that most people are eager to talk about, it’s themselves. So, if you’d like to get the ball rolling and see increased feedback, pose a simple question. Ask your fans what is the best place to eat out in their hometown. Have them list and debate their favorite fictional characters. Let them share a funny story or experience. Don’t worry about trying to turn the conversation back to your product; just let your customers enjoy the conversation.
  • Share a personal experience. Everyone likes a little bit of human drama, and as long as you make sure to keep things professional and appropriate (no one wants to hear about how many beers you had at a party over the weekend), a personal experience can really draw people in. Give an engaging, short narrative, and then invite your customers to share their own experiences.
  • Post at the right time. Sometimes it’s not all about what? or how? you say; it’s about ?when? you say it. The near-instantaneous communication offered by the internet means that for something to be interesting, it also needs to be timely and relevant. Keep an eye on the news, and see what current events could help get your Facebook visitors talking. Also, understand that certain times of the day and week are better for posting if you want to get people involved. Posting during non-work hours will allow viewers to take part without having to neglect their jobs, and posting on or near the weekend will have the same effect.

2. Start listening

For better or worse, many people tend to see company Facebook pages as the go-to place to vent their grievances. This can be frustrating for some companies that don’t want to get pulled into a defensive position every time they post a meme or reference some upcoming promotion, especially when there are customer-service hotlines and online feedback options that are designed specifically for use by unhappy customers.

However, there is an inherent value in the criticisms that you will undoubtedly receive on your Facebook page. Listen to them, and use them to better understand your customers. Where necessary, offer sincere apologies and restitution, but be very careful not to be drawn into any form of argument.

In fact, when facing a belligerent customer, never do any of these things:

  • Ignore the comment. When a customer throws down the gauntlet and challenges your company, one of the worst things you can do is pretend that it never happened. Instead, quickly respond, and if necessary, try to divert the conversation to a private message. This will not only help protect your reputation, but it will protect customers from having to give out specific details on a publicly visible medium.
  • Delete the comment. This may be even worse than simply ignoring the comment, because deleting it shows that you’ve seen the complaint, and still chosen not to bother with it. This indifference will only drive customers to focus more heavily on slandering your brand.
  • Argue. When unhappy customers come to your Facebook page with complaints, resist the urge to argue with them. Instead, focus on placating and solving. If you get into a name calling match, you’ll not only lose the chance to regain a customer, but you’ll also come off as looking petty to anyone else who happens to witness the exchange.

For example, take a look at the Facebook page for home automation provider Vivint. Considering that the page belongs to a company the relies on door-to-door sales in order to grow its customer base, you’ll likely find one or two comments from disgruntled customers on any given post or status update. Without fail, they are always followed by sincere attempts by the company to make things right.

3. Own up to mistakes

Nobody is perfect, and that goes double for businesses. As such, there will be times when you screw up, and thanks to the magic of modern communication, it won?t be long before everybody knows about it. When that happens, you’ll have a choice to make: Either you can ashamedly wait for someone else to notice and to call you on it, or you can come forward and own up. Don’t be a coward; be transparent, and level with your customers about what went wrong and what you’re currently doing to make up for it.

Even if you’re dealing with rumors and haven?t actually made any mistakes, you should still address the problem as soon as possible. Starbucks Coffee had to deal with a rumor a few years back that it was unsupportive of US troops, but rather than getting into a shouting match with those who posted negative comments on their Facebook page, they calmly set the record straight.

Your honesty will incite empathy in those who encounter it, which will naturally lead to an increased trust in your brand. Customers are far more forgiving then they are often given credit for. When you make a mistake, follow these simple steps:

  • Identify. Be constantly on the look out for possible mistakes. As was previously mentioned, it’s always better if you find them before the customer does.
  • Admit. Come forward on your Facebook page (and any other media sites you may have), and explain the situation. Give details on what led to the mistake, and how it will affect customers.
  • Repair. Sometimes, all customers really want is an apology. However, if restitution is required, than be sure to do whatever needs to be done to make everything right.
  • Move on. Once you’ve corrected the problem, move past it. There will be enough people willing to draw attention to your past mistakes; you don’t have to be one of them.

4. Provide value

The essence of content marketing is that people tend to trust those who have proven themselves valuable. If you can solve customer problems for them?even if those problems are as seemingly benign as being in need of a quick laugh?then customers will view your company as friendly and trustworthy.

This can be done by asking yourself one simple question: What does the customer want? Discern the problems that your customers face, and then offer them a solution without asking for anything in return. Don’t worry about the fact that you’re not actively advertising to these people; your actions and helpfulness will be all of the advertisement you need.

5. Be human

Basically, what all of these tips come down to is this: Customers want to interact with people, not organizations. Take a look at the Facebook page for Burt?s Bees, which is known for sharing behind the scene pictures of how the company and its employees work.

The more you’re able to put a face, voice, and soul into your posts, the more favorably your customers will respond. After all, when all is said and done, no one is going to trust your brand, but they might just learn to trust you.