Use social media to make your brand human.

Last month, Reddit user Ib-Cyber (Paul) made a post about how the immersive Nordic role-playing game, Skyrim, served as an escape from the very difficult loss of his sister to cancer. It is indescribably hard watching a love one battle this deadly disease. The empty feeling of helplessness and fleeting visions of hope takes its toll on those who watch their friends and family suffer. And losing that person we hold so dear can plunge us into depression that some people never come out of. Paul used the game to deal with the stress and depression that followed his sister’s death, and decided that both he and his avatar deserved a happy ending.

Bethesda, the makers of the game, saw this post and empathized with the player. Matt Grandstaff, the Global Community Lead at Bethesda, reached out to him and asked for his mailing address. On the anniversary of his sister’s death, Bethesda sent Paul a care package to let him know he was not alone. The package included a gorgeous hard cover book containing hand-drawn art from the game that was signed by the entire Bethesda team. Matt also included this letter:

It wasn’t a long, gushing letter, but a tasteful sentiment that probably made Paul feel very special. And during a time of loss, sometimes that is what need. Someone or something to bolster us back up again.
Companies can take a lesson from Bethesda. It is never appropriate to capitalize on people’s grief or ill circumstances for publicity. However, making a real, empathetic connection with your devout customers is a very powerful way for people to connect with your brand. We are all faced with the loss of loved ones. This gesture makes us feel more connected because it is something we all have dealt with at some time. Bethesda realizes this, and they are a more “human” company for acting upon it.
There are some who might consider this an opportunistic marketing tactic. And it can certainly be used in that way. But I think deep down people can tell if this is something that is sincere or not. The story wasn’t leaked through Bethesda. It was Paul who took it upon himself to share with others what the company had done for him. I think that is a mark of sincerity.
The important lesson here is that social media and other social online communities offer a direct window into people’s lives. Company’s need to pay close attention to their customers, listen to them, and be able to empathize with them. It’s easy to hide behind a brand. It’s much harder to put yourself into someone else’s shoes and begin to think about how they feel. I think when more companies start acting like Bethesda, we will see a greater shift in the relationships people have with their favorite brands.

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