Unspun was conducting a social media workshop recently when the topic settled on KPIs – Key Performance Indicators. The answer was simple but I could tell it was unsatisfying to the audience: it depends.

The audience wanted definite answers to tell them when they were getting their money’s worth if they poured money and resources into using social media to connect with their audiences. It would have been easy to pull one of the metrics suggested by off-the-shelf social media monitoring systems and tell them that that was it; or, try to convince them that hashtags and followers/fans are an indication; or even the by-now-ubiquitious “engagement” metrics mainly of comments to a Facebook posting.

The problem, however, was that we had decided to embark on the road less taken by many communications consultants: to tell the truth even when it can be inconvenient.

And the truth is simple. If you subject an organization or brand’s social media efforts to the question: “What is the end game of getting into social media?” the long-term answer must be “to build belief in the organization/brand.”

This is because on the Net, the audience has an overabundance of choice. The audience is also skeptical and  yet prone to what behavioral and cognitive scientists call System 1 Thinking. In less than a blink of an eye, if you are less than “trustworthy” you would have lost them, perhaps forever.

What this means for organizations and brands, more than ever, is for them to develop a distinct point of view — and, if you are old-fashioned, you could call it character — and use this as a compass to navigate themselves through the virtual sea.

Will this result in the organizations and brands increasing their sales? Not necessary. And this is the scary part for most business entities – to contemplate investing in social media that may not yield immediate bottom line results.

Yet what choice is there in a world dominated by the the Net where social media levels the playing field like never before and overwhelms its denizens with so much choice they have difficulty picking one from the other. Should trust be the new metric for social media?