Report: Consumers Seek Transparency From Brands on Social Media

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As brands struggle to connect and foster loyalty in today’s tumultuous digital environment, it turns out a little bit of transparency goes a long way.

In surveying 1,000 U.S. consumers, the social media management platform Sprout Social found that 86% believe transparency from businesses is more important now than ever before, and more than half say they want brands to be more transparent on social media. That survey has become the basis for a new report on the most effective ways for brands to build deeper connections and enhance customer loyalty.

“Over time, social has given people the expectation of unlimited access to brands and provided a unique platform for businesses to showcase their most important stories,” says Kristin Johnson, director of communications and content at Sprout Social. “This access has led to a shift in power, and people are now, more than ever, holding businesses accountable when they fail to meet standards.”

Experts within the social marketing community have largely assumed that brands that proactively share information with their audiences are the most able to build honest relationships with their communities, which in turn leads to continued support and loyalty from consumers. Now the results of Sprout Social’s survey give those brand marketers data to back up those assertions.

According to Sprout Social’s survey, 40% of consumers cite social as a reason why transparency is important. Interestingly, consumers singled out brands as being the group with the greatest responsibility to be transparent on social media—above friends, family, and even politicians. Seventy-one percent of the consumers surveyed hold themselves to a standard of transparency on social, but 81% expect transparency from the brands they follow.

“It’s important to understand that expectations from consumers are higher than ever and divulging information about your values and practices can actually help your brand differentiate from main competitors,” Johnson says. “Additionally, CEOs who commit to transparency on social can make an outsized impact on brand perception.”

Consumers in Sprout Social’s survey reported that social posts from CEOs make a positive impact on their perception of the business. Specifically, they cited giving the reasoning for business decisions, offering an inside look at the business, and outlining the next steps after a brand crisis as three of the ways brands can stand out.

Johnson cites Everlane as an example of a brand that’s done a standout job on social media. The online fashion startup freely shares business information in which its customers are interested, with a specific series on Instagram Stories dedicated to answering questions from its audience, ranging from new product reveals to factory conditions for workers.

“Not only does this show an ethical commitment to fair labor and manufacturing practices, but it also demonstrates [the brand’s] dedication to ensuring people have a full understanding about how [its] products are being made,” Johnson says.

Of course, in a world where social never sleeps and brands are under constant pressure to ensure they’re sharing the most relevant content, it’s not always easy to cultivate a reputation for being transparent. Consumers in the survey cited nine key ways brands can improve their transparency, the top three of which were admitting mistakes, responding honestly to customers, and discussing products and service pricing.

Johnson says social isn’t nearly as much about promotions or push messaging as it is about relationships. The sooner brands understand that concept, the sooner they can start earning deeper loyalty from their customers.

“What we’re seeing from the data is proof of what consumers have been asking for all along—relationships that last are built on trust,” Johnson says. “Transparency is not only a responsibility of businesses today—it’s an opportunity to forge deeper connections with your community and relationships that will withstand the test of time.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.