Part 2: The Importance of Brand Equity: Activating the Hive
Hive marketing involves bringing individuals into a community of shared interest (the hive), so they can share experiences, extend the depth of their knowledge, access valuable resources and feed off one another’s passion for the subject.
Early in my career I went through a rigorous crisis communication training program. It was extremely challenging and left a lasting impression. The gentleman who led the training spent a good deal of time talking about the important things we should be doing to prepare for a crisis. One of those items was being actively involved in the community as an organization. But that wasn’t enough. It was also important to promote your organization’s community involvement through media relations and other communication (newsletters, internal communication, etc). Of course, today you can effectively promote your community involvement through your social media platforms but this was way before the time of online communities.
When introducing us to the concept of goodwill, the instructor used the analogy of building up Green Stamps. For those too young to remember, S&H Green Stamps were trading stamps that consumers would earn (like frequent flier points) for shopping at grocery stores – an early rewards program. Once an individual had compiled enough stamps, they could take them to the Green Stamps store and cash them in for merchandise. The crisis communication instructor’s premise was that your organization should spend every day building up goodwill by contributing positively to the community, so that you have a reservoir of equity that can be cashed in when that crisis eventually occurs. Obviously a PR crisis is the kind of event that may precipitate the need to draw upon the goodwill you’ve earned within the community. The same principal applies to online communities and the work you do everyday to meet the needs of the members. One of the benefits of that activity is that you are building up equity with the community members. And through word-of-mouth, those good feelings are being shared with others in the larger community.
As people deepen their connection with your brand because of their experiences within the online community, your brand builds up equity. When needed, you can activate these engaged individuals, inviting them to act on your organization’s behalf – like bees leaving the hive. This is not meant to sound mercenary. The simple truth is that supporters of your brand want to help. The online community gives you the vehicle to reach out to them, explain the situation, and ask for help. Is this a realistic expectation? Will brand ambassadors become brand activists? This really isn’t a new concept. Most organizations have supporters that they can rely upon during a time of need. These people will write a letter to the editor, attend a town meeting or show up at a community event. Why would it work differently online? In my experience I’ve seen members of online communities rise up in support of their hospital in the face of a number of crises: Managed care negotiation breakdown, nursing strike, and the denial of new facilities through the certificate of need process. In each of these cases the hospital’s online community has proven to be an important platform for informing and activating supporters of the organization.