In 2006, I remember standing in line of a grocery store and noticing that TIME magazine had named You as the Person of the Year. At the time I was in grade 11 and I likely didn’t fully comprehend the cultural shift that was taking place, but I did understand what TIME was getting at. The Internet, and namely the adoption of Facebook that year, was giving a voice to anyone who wanted to engage and be heard. Individuals were beginning to wield power greater than companies and media outlets, thus requiring organizations to rethink how they talk to their audience. It has been over a decade and savvy businesses have learned that customer and client relationships are built on a two-way street, and traditional means of broadcasting messages in print or through television ads are no longer as effective. Today, customer engagement is not about how customers feel about a brand, rather it is about what they do, or how they act. Leveraging social media tools that cultivate dialogue allows for the opportunity to build positive, loyal relationships.
When I first began thinking of an organization that is doing just this, I immediately thought of National Service Dogs (NSD). As an active volunteer with the organization and huge dog lover, there isn’t an NSD Instagram or Facebook post that I see where I don’t engage with it in some capacity. I am not alone as their photos and videos receive thousands of shares, likes and comments.
NSD is an non-profit organization based in Cambridge Ontario, Canada. Beginning in 1996, they were the first organization in the world to train Labrador and Golden Retrievers to assist children and families living with Autism. The dogs increase safety levels and alleviate the bolting behaviour common in children with Autism by acting as an anchor when tethered to the child. Since then, NSD has launched other programs such as Certified Service Dogs for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that helps veterans and first-responders who are suffering from hyper-vigilance, anxiety and difficulty transitioning back into society. Though the dogs are valued at $30,000 they are provided free to recipients. Currently the wait time to receive a dog is over 24 months and involves an intensive application process.
NSD does not receive government funding so the organization would not exist without donations, sponsorship from generous companies like Purina and Milk Bone, as well as 500+ volunteers. In 2014 volunteers contribute over 400,000 hours of time, or the equivalent of 219 full time employees.
Social media plays a role in engaging a wide audience to help support NSD’s mission of empowering people to achieve their full potential with strategically trained and certified service dogs. I spoke with Rochelle Barber, Events and Communications Coordinator at NSD who manages the organization’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts along with several of the trainers. “There are a variety of people who follow and engage with us on social media such as volunteers, clients, puppy raisers and those who enjoy feel good stories about dogs. We are able to easily share our photos and stories, ask for help and we can rely on Facebook to get our a message quickly if we need to.” Said Barber.
When I inquired about an example how engaging with their audience on social media makes a positive impact on NSD, Barber replied, “Some of the work our volunteers do is not easy like raising and training a puppy, then having to give it up. By using social media our volunteers are able to stay connected to the dog’s journey and feel good about the work they have done. It gives them a reason to volunteer with us again.”
There are many memorable stories that have been shared on NSD’s social media pages such as the video shown below of Hershey, a yellow Labrador who was recently paired with Noah, a 10-year-old boy who has Autism. Though Hershey is highly trained to deal with the symptoms of Autism, she also provides basic companionship. When Noah was asked why he enjoys having Hershey as a friend, he responded, “Because that’s only one I got that I can play with.” As a volunteer and having worked with Hershey last fall, viewing posts like this not only brings happy tears to my eyes, but also makes me want to continue to give my time so more people and families in need can receive a service dog.
Today, many businesses have a harder time controlling their message as consumers have a stronger voice and it is harder to reach people who are watching less TV and reading fewer newspapers. Your organization may not have the opportunity to share adorable photos of puppies, but there are new opportunities for engage with their audience that didn’t exist 15 years ago. Whether you are in a B2B or B2C space, here are a few easy ways to improve your online engagement strategy.
Lessons for Others
Today, many businesses have a harder time controlling their message as consumers have a stronger voice and it is harder to reach people who are watching less TV and reading fewer newspapers. Your organization may not have the opportunity to share adorable photos of puppies, but there are ways to engage with their audience using the power of social media.
Here are a few easy ways to improve your online engagement strategy:
1) Ask a question. Seems straight forward, but ensure the question is thoughtful, pertains to your business, is open-ended and most importantly it is positive. Keep the conversation going by responding promptly to the comments you receive. Hosting a conference? Ask what keynote speaker or pressing topic your audience wants to hear. Own a restaurant? Ask what innovative flavour of ice cream they would like to see on the dessert menu.
2) Promote content from others. Have you ever noticed the more you like and share your friends’ content on Facebook, the more they engage with yours? The same goes for businesses. Whether you re-tweet a blog or even something a competitor did, sharing others’ content is what creates a community and increases the likelihood that they will share your content.
3) Be real. People want to know that there are real people within your organization so don’t be afraid to humanize your brand. Some organizations may prefer to use a more professional tone, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t add personality where possible or let your employees advocate online for your organization.
4) Create digestible content. People are busy so the easier you can make it for your audience to receive your message, the better. Think videos and visuals that quickly tell a story. Utilize banner space on social media platforms and ensure images are sized correctly.
Since every business is different there isn’t one approach that fits all. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different ways to engage your audience. Post-often, listen closely and reply with sincerity.
National Service Dogs
Industry: Certified Service Dogs
Name of Organization Contact: Rochelle Barber
Authored by: Kristy Smith
If you have concerns as to the accuracy of anything posted on this site, please send your concerns to Peter Carr, Program Director, Social Media for Business Performance.
How to Use Social Media to Engage Your Audience and Build Your Brand. (n.d.). Retrieved February 19, 2017, Hootsuite website, https://blog.hootsuite.com/how-to-use-social-media-to-engage-customers/
It’s Been 10 Years Since You Were Name TIME’s Person of the Year. Retrieved February 19, 2017, from TIME website, http://time.com/4586842/person-of-the-year-2006-2016/
National Service Dogs: History. (n.d.). Retrieved February 17, 2017 National Service Dogs website, http://www.nsd.on.ca/about/history/
Thompson, J. (2015, October 27). Eyes Upon Me [Web log message]. Retrieved from Mega Health at Work Blog, http://megahealth.ca/eyes-upon-me