5 Ways Brands Can Operate with Empathy

A Smart Social Summit Recap

Every year, the Spredfast team works hard to ensure our Smart Social Summit attendees walk away from the conference with cutting-edge insights, visionary directions, and strong best practices. We cover many different aspects of social and digital marketing -- the techniques to master, the future to look forward to and the goals to accomplish. Among other topics, we talk about innovation, content, governance, and ROI. But this year, we knew that another thread needed to shine through: empathy.

Now more than ever, companies strive for positive impact, not just for profit. This starts with empathy: a true understanding of the power of their corporate voice, but also of the experiences of their consumers and the lives of their employees. As Forrester’s Erna Alfred Liousas described, empathy partnered with disruption creates a better brand experience. We know this empirically as well. According to Forbes, 73% of millennials are willing to spend more on a product if it comes from a sustainable brand and 81% of them expect their favorite companies to make public declarations of their corporate citizenship.

As we begin to enact the lessons we learned from Summit, we ask ourselves: what does it mean for a company to make the world a better, more empathetic place? How can all decisions -- from internal brainstorming meetings to external messaging on social -- drive and showcase empathy? These five takeaways from some of the greatest minds at Summit may inspire you as your brand answers these questions.

"81% of millennials expect their favorite companies to make public declarations of their corporate citizenship."


When the world is feeling low, go high on social with social love.

Johnson & Johnson’s Head of Global Content Labs Carrie Sloan taught us that when you operate a brand’s social channel, you have the opportunity be a force for good. Last year, Johnson & Johnson rolled out an enhanced parental leave policy. Instead of stopping there, they sent a team to capture new moms and dads on camera describing what it meant to them to work at an empowering, empathetic company. Their social channels have also told stories of individuals, like Cassidy. A child cancer survivor, Cassidy started a drive for character band-aids, which Johnson & Johnson stepped up to participate in. The team created a video for their social channels about Cassidy’s effort. Proving that social good also means strong ROI. One in three people stopped scrolling on social to watch the video.

Leverage your voice on social to lead society.

Spredfast’s CMO Jim Rudden told us that social has given companies not just an opportunity to lead society, but an imperative to. He proclaimed that businesses have a corporate responsibility to lead and that social amplifies that responsibility. At Spredfast, we speak out about issues that our foundational to our business -- for marriage equality, equal pay and against discriminatory legislation. These issues aren’t just who we are at Spredfast, but it’s also what we talk about on social. It would be easier to be silent so that we don’t alienate anyone. But, that’s not our job, Jim taught us. We’re pushing to create workplaces that are inclusive, open, and safe. Companies should carry those messages on social. At Spredfast, we know that taking strong stands are good for business, but also just the right thing to do.

Build trust through empathy, positivity, and consistency.

Former First Lady Michelle Obama shared her guiding principles -- empathy and kindness. She encouraged both the young and experienced leaders in the audience to follow these principles in the way they design products, engage in public discourse, and build their businesses. To build trust, she noted, leaders must be empathetic, positive, and consistent. She also echoed our CMO’s imperative - that public figures and brands have a responsibility and moral obligation to highlight and live the values that we want from our society. Whether as an individual or as a company, by living what you say, you’ll build trust and credibility.

Former First Lady @MichelleObama's guide to building trust: Empathy, positivity, and consistency


Remember that every data point represents a person with a story.

Christoph Gorder, President of charity: water, showed us how they’ve used social to create a movement of over 1 million donors who have helped build water projects serving 7.3 million people in need of clean water. By using real-time data from the wells on the ground, charity: water not only has access to the well’s performance, but also a way to connect global communities. Christoph taught us that the big data they collect isn’t just about the numbers. Each data point represents a person with a story to tell. When we remember that, we’ll build empathy for each other and those in need.

Companies that do well also do good.

In the session “Buying on Belief”, leaders from Edelman, Southwest Airlines, and Abbott discussed the opportunity that companies have to do good while doing well. As described by DVP of Global Brand Strategy & Innovation Chris Miller, Abbott is focused on the intersection of doing impactful work for the world while maintaining a strong business foundation. This takes form in the decisions that their CEO makes -- for instance, to kick off a recent earnings call with concern about Abbott employees in the pathway of natural disasters and committing to help them rebuild their lives -- or in their recruiting efforts. When Abbott realized that their current recruiting tactics weren’t providing them with a diverse applicant pool, they set up internship programs across high schools to train and educate younger students. Although the payoff is uncertain and years away, Abbott knew that this program was a strong initiative for the community regardless of where those students go to work. As Chris said, it was just the right thing to do. For 130 years Abbott’s north star has been around helping people live fuller lives. These efforts fit into the fabric of their business and ensure that the company continues to do good while doing well.

Across Summit’s program—from the keynote speakers to the thought leadership sessions—attendees heard the importance of operating with empathy. Our hope is that they walked away from the conference not just better marketers, but better people.

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Rachel Jamail leads the brand marketing team at Spredfast. Find her on Twitter for a random assortment of thoughts on marketing, yoga, books, and her two favorite (yet very different) football teams - the Texas Longhorns and the Harvard Crimson.