How to build and manage credible partnerships and affiliations in business

By Sarah Greenidge, credibility expert and founder of WellSpoken

WellSpoken is the wellness industry’s first credible content accreditation. WellSpoken also provides the wellness industry with advisory services and training around communicating credibly so they are able to reach the WellSpoken standard of excellence for wellness content.

The rapid rise of brands and companies partnering with experts and influencers to endorse products or services has been ever-increasing in our social media focused world. However, post an onslaught of bad press and media speculation, the consumer has become more sceptical of ‘endorsing’ partners across the board and we have seen this particularly apparent in the wellness industry.

While businesses have a legitimate right to engage with partners and ambassadors to promote products or services, we need to find a balance between associating with high profile partners and ensuring they maintain credibility.

The recently published 18th annual Edelman Trust Barometer has some significant implications for corporate communicators, specifically on who, how and what consumers trust. The consumer survey showed that trust in business, in general, is higher than confidence in government or the media, but there were still major reservations on the how well the ‘average Joe’ could trust ‘big business’.  

Whether a start-up or multinational corporation, this growing sentiment can’t be ignored and organisations need to get ahead of the curve and ensure credibility is at the core of their business.

At WellSpoken we equip and empower brands and influencers to produce good quality information, communicate responsibly and have credible partnerships and affiliations. Within our work we believe that there need to be specific frameworks established to guide those producing consumer content to generate credible information and use three key pillars:

1.       WHAT YOU SAY: All claims and advice need to be substantiated by robust evidence or credible sources of information in the relevant area of expertise

2.       HOW YOU SAY IT: The language we use to convey information needs to take into account the impact certain messages can have on consumers

3.       WHERE YOU SAY IT: The medium used by businesses choose to communicate content (e.g. social media, ambassadors) need to be credible channels of communication.

Ambassadors and partners play a vital role in raising awareness of any brand. They can contribute to growing a brand’s presence among consumers, providing reassurance and trustworthiness.

Because online influencers/experts are already trusted within their area of specialism, often their word is taken as gospel. Their endorsement can be a hugely valuable marketing tool for brands.

Consumers look at experts and influencers within the relevant field to provide advice, recommendations and guidance from a highly qualified, experienced and ethical standpoint. Due to this level of public trust, we believe that businesses, and the influencers and experts they engage with, should seek to ensure that their partnerships and resulting content meet the highest standards of excellence.

No matter how polished content can appear, if it is not delivered responsibly and accurately to consumers, it can be received negatively and can have an undesirable impact on the reputation of your brand. Conversely, credible partnerships and credible content have the power to influence consumers’ decision-making process for the better. It can help to drive belief in a brand.

If an ambassador or partner is seen to be providing advice that they are not qualified to give, or that is based on dubious evidence, this can lead to controversy and public scepticism, thereby tarnishing a partnering brand’s image. Engaging with credible, well-informed and highly-qualified influencers/experts is therefore paramount to ensuring the credibility of your brand.

The question to ask before entering into any partnership would be – are the proposed partner’s credible leaders in their field?

Credible influencers and experts will have earned a positive reputation in their field. An example of credible Individuals in the wellness space would be healthcare professionals or highly qualified nutrition or fitness specialists. These individuals will have spent many years in professional academic and clinical practice, training to acquire a solid foundation of knowledge, coupled with a portfolio of relevant experience. They adhere to professional industry standards, are considered experts in the field through the authoring of publications and guidelines, are linked to research and professional institutions, undertake public speaking at industry-recognised events, and actively continue their professional development with further training and support from their relevant professional organisations.

When deciding whether to work with an expert or ambassador to partner with, it is essential to consider the following:

·         The legitimacy and validity of their qualifications and skills.

·         Their level of expertise in their field or speciality.

·         How many years’ experience they possess in clinical or professional practice.

·         Their membership of a professional body to ensure accountability

·         The number of industry awards and/or recognised accolades they have obtained

·         Their general reputation (positive or negative) in the public arena, and scientific/academic community

·         It is also worth noting the influencer/expert’s wider sphere of influence (e.g. social media presence) – although this should be                given the least amount of weight when considering a potential collaboration or partnership

The World Wide Web has created a truly global landscape, where information is freely shared without borders. While this has an enormous amount of positives – an unfortunate side effect is that corporate mistakes spread like wildfire. In 2017, we saw many of the world leading brands face the harsh consequences of putting out the questionable content or having partnerships that backfired, From backlash to boycotts, getting content wrong can have a very real impact on sales and reaching targets. Once a groundswell of public outrage starts, it is incredibly hard to stop and to re-build trust.

There needs to be a paradigm shift in how brands think about communicating externally. Partnering high profile influencers is not just a means to end or simply a mechanism to generate sales or reach new audiences. Company partnerships provide consumers with a glimmer of a business’s value system. Building credibility builds rapport, brand loyalty and ultimately better business.