When dealing with crises (especially online), one of the most important things to have on your side is a strong community. A highly engaged community of fans who love you is one of the best defenses to have during a time of crisis. Highly engaged fans will leap to your defense (assuming that you are not in the wrong or that you have made amends for what you have done wrong). A company without a strong community is at significant risk of simply being overwhelmed by an Internet tidal wave of negativity. But how do you know whether anyone actually loves your brand?
Let’s look at three measures to help you discern whether you have that engaged community or not. The first is one of the simplest to understand: look inside your web analytics at the returning visitors to your website.
If this number is always low or nonexistent, it means that people are not going back to your website for any reason at all, and this is bad news.
You don’t just want new audiences – you want people to come back and remain engaged with you, continue to find value in you. What pages people are coming back to visit are important as well. If you have high returning users but it’s always to your customer service portal, you may have a service problem rather than an audience affinity.
A second, very simple metric to look at is how many people have engaged with you on any social channel in the last week. Go to the social media channel of your choice, count the replies that you got, count the favorites/Likes that your content got, count the reshares and retweets.
If there aren’t any, then your audience isn’t engaged and likely won’t be there for you in a crisis.
Finally, do a basic check for sentiment analysis. We acknowledge that sentiment analysis has some known difficulties and known inaccuracies. If positive sentiment is the lowest out of positive, neutral, and negative; your audience is unlikely to be able or make the effort to effectively defend you in a crisis.
(Nothing to disclose here.)
So, how do you fix a community engagement problem? While this deserves a separate blog post entirely, the basic rule of thumb with building a community is: “your attitude determines your altitude.” Most companies treat community engagement as an afterthought, something that should be done with minimal investment or commitment. The reality is that building your community requires significant investment: in tools, in people, in time. If you are not willing to invest the skills and time of at least one full-time employee whose job is only in community management, you won’t get the kind of loyal audience you need to weather a crisis well.
This is also where measuring the ROI of community engagement for crisis communications can be difficult. If you never have a crisis, then you won’t necessarily see the crisis communications ROI. Fortunately or unfortunately, every company will eventually have some form of crisis, whether it be a security breach, a bad product or a disgruntled employee. That’s when a highly engaged fan base suddenly becomes relevant.
Consider this a form of insurance. You buy insurance to protect your business in the event of an emergency, but you try to avoid the emergency to begin with and hope it doesn’t happen. Community engagement for the purposes of crisis communications is the same. The good news is that by investing in community, not only do you help strengthen your ability to weather a crisis, you also get positive benefits without the crisis, such as earned media from your fans.
Make your brand’s community a strategic imperative, and you’ll be better prepared to handle the crises that come along. Measure your progress towards that community with returning visitors, social media engagement, and sentiment analysis. Above all else, invest in your community so that it’s there for you when you need it most.
Christopher S. Penn
Vice President, Marketing Technology