Effective crisis management requires using social media well. But social media isn't an emergency envelope you tear open when crisis strikes. It takes time to foster the engagement that makes social media effective in crisis. Trying to build a new social media following in a crisis could be an invitation to failure. Build an engaging social media presence now and you will be building loyal followers that will help you navigate a crisis.
Loyalty models are built with content designed specifically for that model. The three loyalty models are: Conversation Building, Feedback/Crowdsourcing, and Value-Adding. Which loyalty model should you use? It depends on your social media strategy. You may use more than one, depending on what your social media goals are. Goals come first and dictate strategy.
1. Conversation-Building. People use social media for a variety of reasons, but it all boils down to the desire to connect. Whether they are searching for answers, wanting to provide answers, or just catching up with friends, it's about conversations that build relationships. This model requires a commitment to converse. That may seem like a no-brainer, but many organizations use social media strictly to broadcast their own messages. There isn't anything inherently wrong with that strategy, if your goal is just to provide information. But, if your goal is to build relationships you must issue authentic calls-to-action, and respond with gratitude when those calls are answered. You must also make a commitment to answer your followers' calls-to-action. Your motivation must be to further the conversation to deepen the relationship. The relationship is the benefit that drives loyalty. Both sides of the conversation believe in the value of the other. This model isn't about building numbers of followers or likes, it's about the give and take in the comments. To build conversations is to get people talking to you and about you.
2. Feedback/Crowdsourcing. People have questions--have you got answers? And are you present to give them in a timely manner? This is the model where social media customer service goals reside. Many companies have built loyal followings because they are dedicated to pleasing their customers--think Zappos, Comcast, Southwest Airlines, Best Buy. Or, thinking smaller, look at what companies like the Natural Running Store have done (link to Social Media Examiner). This model requires two important commitments: to be present in real-time and to have an empowered internal network that can answer questions and fix problems quickly. Case in point: the recent Enterprise Rent-A-Car "Fix It" campaign. The premise? If you ever have a problem with Enterprise, all employees are empowered to fix it. They don't need to find a manager or make a phone call, they will fix it on the spot. Also, smart organizations crowdsource their fans to help solve their problems or develop new products. Your motivation is the knowledge that customer satisfaction creates fierce loyalty. If they know you care, your loyal customers will tell you and tell others. Respond accordingly with gratitude.
3. Value-Adding. This is the Golden Rule model: give nods, give gifts, solve problems. It's not about you. This model is the most time consuming as it really takes the first two models and adds personalization. Adding value to fans means making a commitment to knowing them as individuals. Not necessarily each and every one, but it requires well developed personas. In this link, Hubspot shares some ideas for creating good content, based on personas. Here's another good piece on how to wed personas and content together from Lee Oden at TopRank. For a more detailed understanding of personas and how to use them, pick up a copy of David Meerman Scott's, The New Rules of Marketing and PR. Your motivation must be to give people what they need, not what you want them to have. It's about listening to their needs, giving them information that will solve their problems, and rewarding them for their loyalty. It might be about recommending someone else, much as the Macy's Santa did in Miracle on 34th Street. It's about refusing to engage in criticism of your competitors. It's about being authentic, admitting mistakes, and finding better ways to serve your fans. Adding value to create loyalty also requires a good understanding of content strategy.
Content is the Key:
Effectively implementing each model requires matching content strategy to needs. In her recent article about stories and the purchase process, Heidi Cohen displays a great matrix that matches the stage of the purchase process with information that customers need and types of content (stories). Even if you don't have a product to sell, you can see by the matrix how matching content to personas and need effectively engages fans. Matching content to persona and need takes work, but it pays off big in the end. When you give people what they want, they will come back for more, and tell others about you. To brush up on your content strategy, I recommend starting with the book Content Rules by C.C. Chapman and Ann Handley. It's two years old, but it will give you an excellent base understanding.
Loyalty models can help identify key influencers that can become ambassadors for your brand. This piece will involve careful listening to what's being said and who's saying it. You may want to put your key influencers on a "frequent rewards" program, so to speak. This has to be done purposefully and strategically. Don't forget internal constituencies here. Identify key employees, friends, or board members that have large followings and can help spread your message as well. Social media monitoring applications such as BuzzMgr have built-in pieces that help identify influencers and crowdsource ideas.
Whatever model or combination you use, make a commitment to good content. Identifying a model based on your social media strategy is only the first step. Building the fan base that can advocate for you in a crisis takes a long-term commitment. Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither are loyal fan bases.
Are you using a loyalty or advocacy strategy in your social media? I hope you'll share your thoughts in the comments.