Empathy is what separates exemplary PR from ordinary communications. The essential ingredient for understanding audiences is the ability to be empathetic, and understanding others is essential for effective communications. Statistics and information are abundant; empathy is relatively rare. Communications that exude empathy get more attention and better results.
Organizations perceived as caring for others gain greater respect. Consumers and other stakeholders tend to show loyalty to companies if they think they understand their viewpoints and take their opinions into account. Many modern CEOs see corporate empathy – or how the organization can understand the feelings of employees, stakeholders, business partners, customers and others — essential to a well-run business.
Empathy improves teamwork, helps avoid and resolve conflicts, and fosters innovation, asserts Katie Paine, CEO of Paine Publishing. Empathy also sells products. People tend to purchase a product when other people they connect with – people who they believe are like them — praise the product.
“Humans telling their own story mean that other humans are more likely to pay attention to the story,” Paine says.
Empathy also improves media pitching, says PR trainer Michael Smart. “It means that you don’t just know the checklist of attributes that makes something newsworthy,” Smart writes for the PRSA. “You know what it’s like to be a journalist or blogger tasked with meeting a content or engagement quota.”
How to Gain & Display Empathy in PR
Following these steps can supercharge your communications through empathy.
Try to see things from the other viewpoint. “When you do this, you’ll realize that other people most likely aren’t being evil, unkind, stubborn, or unreasonable – they’re probably just reacting to the situation with the knowledge they have,” explain experts at Mind Tools. That doesn’t mean you need to agree with them.
Consider testing your empathy with an online social intelligence test, although many are designed to assess if a young child may become a serial killer, Paine notes.
Research your stakeholders or target audience through social media analytics, surveys and other research methods. Some experts recommend creating customer personas.
Consider the audience first. Produce content that meets the needs of the audience, connects with their concerns, and portrays the organization as understanding of and engaged with the audience’s pain points. Many PR and marketing professionals create a content strategy, then think about the audience. Reverse that typical process, urges Josh Ritchie, CEO and co-founder of content marketing agency Column Five, writing in Forbes.
“To pursue empathetic content marketing, make this your mantra: Decrease the amount of selling in your content and increase the amount of time listening to and thinking about your customers,” Ritchie advises. Then write content that expresses the organization’s understanding, kindness and good will.
How to Measure Corporate Empathy
As more forward-thinking executives recognize benefits of corporate empathy, measuring empathy is increasingly a staple in organizational measurement, and experts have devised varies metrics for quantifying empathy. Paine outlines a six-step program to measure and evaluate corporate empathy. Here’s a summary:
Start with business goals. Determine how PR and marketing can support business goals. Common goals might be increasing qualified leads or reducing costs of attracting and hiring new employees.
Define what empathy looks like in your organization. Gain consensus on the characteristics of empathy to measure. Some possible characteristics include: empower others, ethical, authentic.
Define specific metrics to track. Metrics could include social media comments, customer complaints or employee or customer retention.
Establish a benchmark to compare results to. Measure empathy levels before and after the program to measure progress.
Select a measurement tool. Tools include customer surveys, employee morale studies and social media listening. Find if research already exists. Best practice dictates that you usually need a combination of different measurement techniques appropriate for your company or client.
Bottom Line: The ability to feel empathy – to truly understand other people — separates stellar PR pros from ordinary communicators. In addition, organizations perceived as empathic gain goodwill and attract loyal customers.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.