Clever copywriting and agile newsjacking are important, but it’s those organisations embedding empathy into their social media mix who are seeing greater success.

Harvard Business Review has just released its ’50 companies that get Twitter – and 50 that don’t’. Its gauge of success? Humanity, empathy, “…the ability of companies to engage authentically and emotionally with their customers”.

What is clear from looking at the Twitter strategies of the companies coming out on top in the empathy stakes is that they ‘get’ the importance of community management.

That is, the importance of an always-on community manager (also known as a social media manager or digital brand ambassador) responding to customer queries or proactive approaches on social to build long-lasting relationships.

Pro-social movements need to consider this too – whatever their size. Twitter, for example, recently showcased the Climate Shift project for LSE on its Business Success Stories blog, highlighting how an authentic voice and smart community management can even drive engagement around potentially complicated scientific arguments (and see a 35x increase in followers!).

So, how can charities add that element of humanity to deliver true authenticity across their owned social spaces?

Harvard Business Review opines that “empathy consists of three components: reassurance, authenticity, and emotional connection”. And with a solid community management strategy, charities can provide all three in the following ways:

Reassurance

Empathy goes beyond simply solving a problem. It involves making a customer feel valued – making them feel heard.

Live social chats are a great demonstration of this. DFID's Facebook chats have been particularly effective.  

Its Zero Tolerance to FGM Day chat with Lindsay Northover offered its followers the opportunity to challenge and question someone who can genuinely effect change in the area.

 

An equally effective tactic is to show where the community has already made a difference. The World Food Programme has spent the past two weeks thanking and engaging with its Twitter community, keeping followers up to date with how their donations are helping those in Nepal.

By posting videos, photos and regular infographic updates on how much food it has dispatched and how many districts it has reached so far, the WFP is reassuring its followers that they’re collectively having an impact.

Authenticity

The scripted customer service call centre won’t fly in today’s digital age – particularly with charity audiences. A good community manager doesn’t just answer queries from a signed-off list of stock answers; they nurture a conversation.

Shelter is noted for its strong, authentic tone of voice on Twitter.

Its responses to questions are often colloquial and always no-nonsense – never waivering in its commitment to getting everyone a home.

While not tonally appropriate for every organisation’s community, it is perfectly in keeping with the Shelter attitude and approach – and thus authentic.

Giving the individual using your voice a human face adds authenticity too

Save the Children UK, for example, are one of a growing number of charities that provide the names of those community managers in the driving seat that day, thus demonstrating that there’s a genuine human behind their Twitter responses.

Emotional connection

Yes, charities are talking about hard-hitting issues and emotionally charged subjects – but this doesn’t mean you need to offer an online counselling service.

Driving long-lasting relationships online can come as a result of personalisation and rewarding participation. 

For the one-year anniversary of the Chibok kidnappings, the Malala Fund asked people to write a letter to the missing schoolgirls and encouraged the use of #DearSisters, then published moving excerpts in the form of designed image posts. 

The Nike Foundation’s Girl Effect took a similar approach during the Elders’ chat (a live chat hosted by Graca Machel and Desmond Tutu), encouraging and recognising community participation by creating personalised graphics highlighting (and rewarding) questions from participating followers. 

Less about social fame, more about recognition and reward, this tactic can go a long way to adding the human touch to your social offering.  

In its conclusion on its research, Harvard Business Review notes that “empathy isn’t just about customer support. It is also about how companies relate to their employees and to the world at large.”

By adopting a robust approach to community management, charities too can reap the benefits of being perceived as empathic. After all, if there is one message that every charity must get across to potential donors, it’s that it really does care.

Gina Roughan

Published 15 May, 2015 by Gina Roughan

Gina Roughan is editorial director at digital agency Zone. You can follow her on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

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