One of the things that excited me as a young aspiring journalist was the noble responsibility of the news media to serve as the “fourth branch of government.”

All the Presidents Men was still on a clear call as I learned the basics of investigative reporting and dreamed of being the next Woodward or Bernstein with breaking news that would land POTUS on the hot seat.

Fast forward 20 years.

Today our politicians are doing a good job getting involved on social media. You don’t need our help anymore. And according to the Edelman Trust Barometer, 61% of the world consider journalists to be non-objective – even partisan. “Fake news” is so ubiquitous that our schools need to teach children how to spot them.

Despite this sad situation, there is a silver lining for your company. The same survey found that 61% of the world trust your company, vis-à-vis NGOs (57%), their country’s government (53%) and the news media (51%).

Your customers, consumers and the general public are ready to trust you. How can your company be trusted by the masses?

The answer: by building a customer-centric content marketing program.

You can use thought leadership to show customers what your company stands for and, more importantly, why trusting you can help them alleviate their worries and organizational challenges.

Six elements to building brand trust with content marketing

1. Run with empathy

Start your content with customer pain points. Let your audience know right away that you understand why a problem is keeping them busy at night. Do not give them the answer to their problem until you have shown that you are “feeling their pain”.

A typical example: Here are excerpts from a blog post I recently wrote about unemployment insurance fraud. The company’s audience is small in order to reach medium-sized employers:

Unemployment insurance fraud has skyrocketed in the US and Canada since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out.

Criminals have targeted billions in unemployment benefits through phishing scams and database breaches.

Unemployment insurance fraud does not require the victim to be unemployed. Instead, identity thieves obtain personal information such as date of birth, social security number or driver’s license information and sell or use that information to file an unemployment claim.

Many victims are not aware of the fraud until they receive a letter or benefit card from a government employment agency. Others may know when their current or former employer will request confirmation that they have applied for unemployment benefit.

If you are reading this as an employer you are probably concerned enough to read the rest of the article that outlines how employers can prevent this type of scam.

2. Ask your subject matter experts (SMEs)

In the Edelman study cited above, respondents were also asked which managers they trust most in companies. The highest levels of trust (59%) are given to technical experts and academics. CEOs follow with 44%.

Take that away? Let your SMEs write your content. Let the expertise, best practices, and lessons learned take center stage.

TIP: Your in-house experts are short on time and may not be the best writers. That’s OK. You can effectively extract SME knowledge and insert it into your content.

3. Show yourself even when you’re not selling

Teach your audience what they need to know, even if it doesn’t lead to a direct sales pitch. You can do this by creating tangent content.

A typical example: In 2010, a company that produced training materials for skilled nurses published a series of white papers on the Affordable Care Act. The training modules were never mentioned in the whitepapers, but the content provided a huge ROI for the company.

Why? Because the business earned customers’ brand trust overnight.

Nursing home operators were desperate for information on how the ACA would affect them and the company quickly became an authority in the field. While the whitepapers had nothing to do with their product, they were all about solving their customers’ biggest problems.

4. Tell your own stories

Write case studies about your company that show rather than tell. As an example, describe how you created your company’s DEI program to help other companies. Publish a case study on your company’s wellness initiative or employee incentive program. Announce the day that you will approve your employees for voting or volunteer for a cause that your company is committed to. Stories like this are proof of your industry leadership.

TIP: Do it internally too. Publish a weekly or monthly internal newsletter, even if it’s just a company and employee success page. The Edelman survey found that 76% of workers respect their employers. You can turn employees into brand champions by steering the brand messages in their direction as well.

5. Cite statistics and sources correctly

Nothing makes me close a browser or magazine faster than a misquoted statistic – or nothing at all. This can seriously damage brand confidence, as can the all-too-common practice of making broad statements that may not be accurate.

A typical example: When ghostwriting for a subject matter expert (SME), it’s easy to rate their information at face value. However, what if a quoted statistic or source is incorrect? Check this out before posting!

If you don’t, letters to the publisher requesting revocation for inaccurate information or false product claims that lead to terrible social media reviews are the fastest way to damage a business’s reputation.

6. Don’t forget to distribute

Your industry already has reputable sales channels. Take advantage of this. It is easier today to secure a free spot on these channels as publications and companies increase their content spending but are unable to do everything in-house. Find industry titles and professional associations that your clients belong to. When a trusted industry publication or organization publishes your article, you also gain brand trust from their readership.

A typical example: This post! MarketingProfs is doing something I wrote. So you feel like you can trust my advice, don’t you?

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With America divided, companies have the chance to take center stage with their thought leadership.

Don’t disappoint. Show customers that they can trust you. They are waiting to hear what you have to say.

More resources on Brand Trust

The personality traits of the most prestigious brands

Why timestamping your online content is so important

Earn your customers’ trust: How to use personalization and authenticity to reach target audiences