St. Jude Children's Research Hospital isn't just the brand with the most loyal following on Facebook, according to social research firm Louddoor. It is
by a mile.
Louddoor based its list on what it calls a "Net Promoter Score," which it calculates from surveys of Facebook fans. St. Jude's score was 77.8. The
next-highest brand was Facebook with 66.6.
How exactly did St. Jude pull that off? John Avola, senior liaison for interactive marketing, social, and mobile, says it's all about giving as much as you
"I honestly believe, being in the social realm every day, loyalty really is a two-way street," he says. "We at St. Jude are just as loyal back to our fans
as they are to us."
What's particularly interesting about St. Jude's rise to the top of the Facebook loyalty rankings is that it got there without gimmicks or jokes. The brand
sticks to a "straightforward, but uplifting" tenor, Avola says, and it works.
St. Jude joined Facebook back in 2007, but a recent idea, launched in July 2012, has really boosted
engagement, Avola says. It isn't a game or a "like"-gated sweepstakes. It's a weekly feature that spotlights a patient; it's called "St. Jude Moments."
Each focuses on a kid and an activity that kids at St. Jude can do.
"At first, we weren't sure how long this was going to last. What we found was the engagement has increased substantially from the first post to today," he
The earliest St. Jude moments were quite popular—one from July 9 earned more
than 15,000 "likes" and 300 comments. They've definitely grown in terms of engagement, though. One from Feb. 18 has netted nearly
27,000 "likes" and 580 comments.
Nicola Ziady, St. Jude's director of marketing and communications, says those posts are an example of how St. Jude aims to "un-market" its Facebook fans.
Before selling them something or pushing for donations, it appeals to them as human beings.
"We're reminded on a daily basis what we're here for and who we're doing this for," she says.
Avola adds that the lack of gimmicks on the page is intentional. Not every Facebook post gets through to fans, so the ones that do need to be shareable and
"We know that every post is so important," he says. "The goal behind every post is not necessarily looking at our initial audience, our current fans, but
our ultimate audience, friends of our fans."
An honest tone
When St. Jude asked fans to vote for PGA golfer Brian Gay in a player-of-the-month poll,
it didn't do so with jokes or sarcasm. It just asked outright, noting that the hospital would receive $25,000 if Gay won. He did.
"Our brand is a true brand," Ziady says. "It's an honest brand. We're a true reflection of our patients and our donors."
That extends not just to what's written on the Facebook page, but to its visual identity, as well. A quick scroll through St. Jude's Facebook page reveals
again and again that, even though the kids are enduring hardships, they're smiling. Ziady says that's meant to evoke the feeling of actually being at St.
"It's so inspiring and invigorating to look at [our patients]," she says.
Ziady says the tone is something of a response to the question, "Would you 'like' yourself?"
"If there was a 'love' button, I'd click that as well," she says.
Avola adds that the approach to messaging isn't limited to Facebook, either. St. Jude aims for a similar tone in its advertising, emails, and even direct
mail. Everything works together as one unit.
Avola says St. Jude tries to spread as much love as it can to its 1.1 million fans, constantly thanking them for their help in situations such as the PGA
poll. The social media team tries to answer every comment and question, too, he says.
For example, when St. Jude quickly sold out of
a Valentine's Day T-shirt it was highlighting on the Facebook page, people left comments voicing their frustration. The team quickly let those commenters know the issue was being addressed.
"We wanted to acknowledge as quickly as we could, you know, we're aware," Avola says. "We were on the phone with our merchandise team. It was exciting and
scary at the same time."
As soon as the shirts were available again, the team let fans know, assuring them that the item would be available by Valentine's Day.
Matt Wilson is a staff writer for Ragan.com.