Howard Scott is Head of Digital at the National Trust, as well as an Executive Director of BIMA and a visiting lecturer on digital marketing at Southampton University. He explains how the National Trust approaches its online community and how brands can develop deeper relationships with audiences
How important is the National Trust’s online community?
It’s immensely important. As a member organisation we have a special relationship with all our supporters, whether they’re members or not, and social media is a core way of talking to people. The way we engage and how people engage with us is the key driver of all our community-based interactions. Of late we’re probably less concerned with the pure numbers we reach through social. I’d almost call that a slightly old fashioned metric. But engagement is key to what we’re doing.
What specific steps have you taken to extend that community?
There’s no one specific step I’d point to. But we’ve really switched from focusing on the quantity of outbound broadcast content to the quality. We’ve actually reduced the amount of content we post on channels like Facebook, and paid more attention to what our community have been responding to. We’re really listening to their desires and concerns. By posting less, we’re actually doing a lot more with them as the right content at the right time encourages much stronger engagement levels. That’s part of our core strategy. What we’re striving for are real relationships with people.
Now that most brands have moved on from simply pursuing ‘Likes’, follows etc., what constitutes quality engagement or interaction?
Real-world conversations. If we post content on social media, quality engagement means people respond by posting their own pictures or talking to us directly. Just having people click the ‘Like’ button doesn’t mean very much. We want people to truly engage. Even telling us they’re not happy with something is a really valuable way to start a dialogue. In the last six months we have invested in our social media team. We can now get involved in more conversations and we also have a proactive outreach programme which helps us introduce the Trust to new audiences.
How do you recommend measuring a community’s value?
For us it’s based around how people engage with us, their propensity to visit and whether they recommend us to friends. What we don’t tend to focus on is a basic spend-versus-number-of-people-engaged metric. That’s not the ROI model we subscribe to. In the future, the place we’re heading to is a much deeper integration of social stats with our other analytics platforms. We see social not just as one of the channels we work in, but as a keychannel. It plays a huge role.
If you had any tips for brands who want to develop deeper relationships with their communities, what would they be?
I’m loathe to say ‘content is king’ because it’s such a terrible cliché, but you do need to understand the role content has in two fields. First, what does your audience want to hear from you? Secondly, how does it communicate your business objectives? Content requires an audience-led approach but still needs to communicate those business objectives. Think about how you bring stories to life, how they convey your purpose and then respond to your audience in the best way. Understanding the importance of different channels and devices at different stages of our customer journey is also very important. One size does not fit all. Lastly, there are three words I’ve been using a lot at the National Trust recently: storytelling, devices and relevance. Those are really the three pillars that hold up everything we do.
Interview by Jon Fortgang