When it comes to inspiring engagement, there are four criteria essential to creating and maintaining meaningful connections with potential supporters, donors, members, and visitors.
During a recent meeting with executive leaders (the “Chiefs” – or, affectionately – the “Cs”) of a mission-driven visitor-serving institution with which I am involved, I was asked, “What makes us [our institution] seen as a credible actor by the market?”
It’s an excellent question – and information from several KYOB posts came flooding to me all at once. Fortunately, there’s sufficient analysis about what informs positive brand perceptions and relationships to pull out four, key factors that contribute to sustained, meaningful engagement in the digital age. Combine these factors with the more tactical four Ts of digital engagement, and you’ve got a good basis for a successful organization’s public-perception strategy.
Considering how your organization approaches its audiences within these four realms is likely critical for the successful achievement of your mission and financial goals alike:
Being relevant isn’t just about being active on Facebook and (although that can help). Being relevant means connecting with audiences though mission-based content. In today’s world, content is no longer king. Connectivity is king. Connectivity happens when an organization presents a passion or platform that resonates with a potential constituent. Therefore, connectivity is about your organization and its relationship with other people, while content is only about your organization. Connectivity is necessarily relevant, while content risks operating in isolation if it fails to engage its hopeful audiences. Connectivity – or sharing an implicitly understood “So what?” with a potential supporter – is prerequisite to action. Simply put: Without connectivity, nobody cares about your organization. Don’t just aim to be “important,” aim to be relevant.
Resonance occurs when an organization “walks its talk” and actually shows the values that it tells. Resonance is about creating meaningful impact – and successfully communicating that impact – so that the shared passion that makes an organization relevant (see #1) can be justified and solidified by supporters. We live in a world in which the market – and especially potential donors and supporters – make decisions based on their own perceptions of how an organization achieves its mission. Studies reveal that demonstrating impact is a key driver of giving decisions. Right now, it’s cool to be kind and many organizations are sinking or swimming based on their perceived abilities to actually carry out their missions. Visitor-serving organizations that highlight their mission outperform organizations marketing themselves primarily as attractions for a reason: They do what they say they are going to do and people can see it, thus, reaffirming their decisions to support the organization. It all boils down to this: An organization must be continually delivering on its promise of relevance in order to resonate with supporters. As mission-driven organizations, this is our sweet spot. Nonprofits are increasingly competing with for-profits and we may risk relevance as an entire industry if we fail to deliver on resonance.
Certainly, all of these points may play a role in providing the foundation for an organization’s overall reputation. However, “reputation” – or, what other people say about you (in marketing parlance think, “third-party endorsements”) – plays a particularly important role in driving success. In fact, data suggest that an organization’s “reputation” is a primary motivator for engaging high-propensity visitors (i.e. those who demonstrate the demographic, psychographic, and behavioral characteristics that indicate a heightened likelihood to visit a museum, symphony, historic site, or other visitor-serving organization). So, what comprises an organization’s reputation? Good question. Regular KYOB readers know that I talk about this…a lot. The answer is a little bit of paid media (e.g. promotions and advertising) and a lot bit of reviews from trusted sources (particularly word of mouth and earned media – both of which are often facilitated by social media). In fact, reviews from trusted resources are 12.85 times more influential in terms of your organization’s reputation than is the advertising and promotions that likely make up the lion’s share of your media budget. If you’re really good, other people will talk about you…and the things that other people say about you (i.e. reviews from trusted sources) play a bigger role in enhancing reputation than does anything that an organization pays to say about itself. In order to achieve favorable reviews, an organization will benefit by first aiming to be relevant and resonant.
“Social care” is a term for carrying out relationship building and customer service practices on communication platforms (digital and otherwise). Social care is expected by audiences in today’s world. Social media isn’t a one-way communication channel like a television ad or print ad or direct mail brochure – which data suggest are decreasing in overall marketing value when compared to the web and social media. In order to successfully execute engagement strategies, organizations must be “real-time” responsive to their online audiences. While social care and nurturing audience relationships composes one of the three key elements of social media success, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. The “responsiveness” goal is to be an active listener and display transparency in order to elevate levels of trust in the organization. Being responsive demonstrates that the organization cares about its community of fans and supporters. Most importantly, it demonstrates trust in audiences – and that trust has the potential to be returned to the organization.
Think about how you engage with your favorite nonprofit organizations. You may find that these four Rs of brand credibility play an important role in your own perceptions of organizations. It’s funny that so few nonprofits take a moment to step back and consider how they want to be viewed by their target audiences and supporters, isn’t it? How an organization is perceived in this digital world of heightened noise – wherein every type of organization seems to have a social mission – is neither the cause of success nor the outcome of an organization’s success. It’s both.
The four Rs of brand credibility move in a cycle. It’s important that organizations realize that they play an important role in making their own cycle ascend upward instead of spiraling downward. It’s time to step in and maximize our opportunity for success – and that means understanding the important role that we play in driving it