I’ve always been interested in people. At university I would spend hours in the coffee shop watching people. I would notice the small gestures. I would see the forced smile of an unhappy coincidence. Or the joyous embrace of a true surprise. And as I watched – and drank coffee – I realised that our bodies betray us before the words ever do. Indeed, our actions speak louder than words – with some suggesting that over 90% of our communication is non-verbal.

But if this is the case, how do we go about establishing credibility and trust online?

This is where social networks are coming to play an important role. While we may not know or trust a brand or a company (or the brand manager working there), we may well know others who do. And the level of trust and respect that we hold for that other person will impact our actions – whether to research, engage and purchase – or not.

Why is this distinction important?

Most business people drink their own kool aid (which is, perhaps, as it should be). But your customers (in general) don’t work for you. They don’t spend hours of every day thinking about your business. They are thinking about their lives – the problems, the joys, the relationships. They are wondering about interest rates, mortgages and what to cook for dinner. You are probably the same – as Robyn McMaster explains, we perform many different roles each day depending on our responsibilities.

Despite this (and of course, we know this deep down), many corporate blogs, websites and social media outposts are designed and populated with content which aims to influence customers.

As I have said before, it’s not about influence, it’s about trust. If you really want to transform the relationship you have with your customers, it’s time to stop thinking short term sale. It’s time to stop dating and get real about commitment. And in a way, that means sharing the needs, interests and concerns of your customers.

It’s time to watch HOW you say something rather than WHAT you say. Julia Hanna over at the HBS Working Knowledge blog suggests that “People often are more influenced by how they feel about you than by what you're saying. It's not about the content of the message, but how you're communicating it.” And online, that’s determined by your actions within the network.

It’s time to act like you care – or find someone who does.