Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of someone else, is one of the main reasons why word of mouth marketing generates higher engagement levels than direct brand advertising. Online consumers don’t want to be bombarded with product pitches, but they do want to know which brands fellow consumers are using, and why. Here’s how engaging employees and customers in brand communication enables companies to boost their online presence, by tapping into the power of empathy.
Speaking to Strangers
Word of mouth marketing doesn’t necessarily take place between individuals who know each other; it often involves strangers who, as a result of research or mutual connections, come across each other on social media. What is key, however, is that in such instances individuals can relate to each other because of a shared interest or objective. For example, somebody researching smartwatches on social media can relate to other consumers who talk about the ones they use, as those people have gone through the same process. The researcher can therefore imagine what it would be like to be in their position, with their watch, and identify those individuals whose product experience corresponds most to their purchasing criteria. This process of empathy-driven selection can have a huge impact on the ultimate purchasing decision.
Similarly, if somebody is considering applying for a job at a given company, but wants to do some research first, they might come across current employees who communicate about the employer brand on social media. Perhaps there has been a recent event within the company, or it has received an award. Alternatively, maybe employees are talking about the day-to-day company culture. Either way, being able to gain insights from people who already know what it’s like to be a part of the organization – people with whom, as fellow individuals, they can empathize – potential candidates can get a better idea of what the employee experience is like, and act on that information.
Learning from the experiences of others is one of the key things social media users do, both actively and passively. The sharing of experiences is also what builds empathy across groups, or between people who don’t know each other, and that ultimately influences behavior. For example, when somebody shares a movie trailer and says “Saw this last night, loved it!”, that movie becomes more appealing not only to the individual’s own connections, but also to others who may see the post in search results. Why? Because rather than a branded endorsement, that post is a personal message that reflects the positive experience of an individual.
Empathy through Employee Advocacy
Social media gives individuals access not only to companies, but also to the individuals who work for companies: from marketing and sales all the way through to HR, product development and senior management. When, as part of an employee advocacy program, all employees are encouraged to share company content and add their own insights, the ripple effects are many.
For example, when somebody who worked on the development of a new product shares the official press release along with a personalized introduction, it allows end user audiences to better relate to that product because the information comes from a fellow individual, not an official brand account. Indeed, companies should aim to use peer-to-peer interaction alongside brand-to-consumer interaction, as audiences can identify more with individuals than they can with official brand accounts.
More than a Feeling
Due to the advent of social media and the importance of peer-to-peer conversations, brand communication is no longer made up of company messages alone; employees, partners and customers all have a slice of the pie and, as such, an influence on how brands are perceived. Empathy plays a key role in social media interaction, which is why companies should look to showcase the insights of employees, customers and other individuals in order to better engage new and existing audiences.
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