Simon Mainwaring is the founder of We First, a social branding consultancy that helps companies, non-profits, and consumer groups build a better world through changes to the practice of branding, marketing, and consumerism using social technology. His new book is We First: How Brands and Consumers Use Social Media to Build a Better World (Palgrave/Macmillan, June 2011). In this interview, I asked him to provide the top 10 ways for a company to align its business strategies and marketing around corporate social responsibility in order to benefit from the social business marketplace, and this is what he said:
1. Define your core values and purpose
Brands often misinterpret social media as an end in itself when social media is simply a tool to connect with an audience like any other media. To that end, it is critical that every company defines what it stands for and distills its message down to emotional terms that can connect with their customer community.
2. Communicate your purpose to your employees
In many cases, employees have no idea what their company stands for. This impacts a company’s ability to attract top talent, employee retention, and the potential of employees to serve as the brand’s first line of word of mouth advertising. By clearly communicating your brand’s purpose to its employees, you can improve your bottom line and marketing.
3. Execute social responsibility programs in alignment with your core values
Too often brands execute cause marketing or corporate social responsibility campaigns that are not clearly aligned with their for-profit core values. This creates a disconnection in the minds of their customers and opens them up to the objection of green-washing or disingenuous marketing. By making an authentic commitment to social change in alignment with the brand’s core values, companies create consistency with their marketing and inspire customers to become brand ambassadors.
4. Engage with your customers as the chief celebrity
Prior to social media, a broadcast or “push” mentality permeated traditional television, print, and radio advertising. This positioned the brand as the center or celebrity of its community. By contrast, social media has created a real-time dialogue between brands and customers. This means that brands must do more listening and allow their customer community to co-author the stories that brands share. As such the most effective way for companies to create a community of brand ambassadors is to adopt the posture of chief celebrant inspiring their community to reciprocate.
5. Lead by listening, identifying, and responding to customer concerns
As brands learn to execute “pull” strategies that draw customers to them, they must also master the art of effective listening to customer concerns and desires. Critical to this shift is the decision to make a long-term investment in a relationship with their customers. In doing so, brands must respond to customer comments about their product or services. Only then will companies maintain effective dialogue across social media.
6. Integrate purpose into your corporate strategies
Consumers want a better world, not just better widgets. Customers expect greater social contribution from the brands they support, companies must put an end to the false separation of living and giving. Corporate donations, cause marketing, and corporate social responsibility programs are not sufficient to meet the social challenges we currently face. Customers and citizens now expect companies to serve all stakeholders as well as shareholders in return for their loyalty, goodwill, and purchases.
7. Allocate a small contribution to a cause, non-profit, foundation, or corporate social responsibility program
Customers are aware that historic levels of debt, declining sales, and high unemployment has meant that philanthropic donations have declined. By allocating a small percentage of their profits to a cause that is aligned with their core values, brands can win both shareholder and customer support as well as improve the well being of the society.
8. Communicate your socially responsible efforts to your customers
Even when a brand commits dollars and expertise towards social change, they must communicate those efforts in a tone that is effective but subtle. This means ensuring that your marketing messages come from a place of generosity with a view to the well being of your customer community, rather than boasting about the company. Only then will these efforts generate greater loyalty, purchases, and word-of-mouth advertising.
9. Put your money where your mouth is
The social-media marketplace and the real-time brand/consumer dialogue that drives it is placing new demands on a brand. Whether they call it a Mission Control Center or Social Business Unit, brands must monitor and respond to conversations related to their products and services across social platforms. In addition, they must maintain a crisis protocol enabling them to handle the inevitable mistakes or miscommunications that arise. In all cases a brand must demonstrate authenticity, transparency, and accountability for their corporate behavior.
10. Cooperate and collaborate with competitors
Companies now face multiple challenges including a struggling economy, an eroding middle class, persistent poverty, and growing environmental damage. As such, companies need to work together to solve problems that are larger than their own self-interest. Such efforts are also a powerful demonstration to their customer community of the brand’s commitment to the well being of others as well as themselves. When companies collaborate they are smarter, faster, and more effective at finding the solutions and often reap unforeseen benefits for their individual brands.
By implementing Simon’s ten points, companies will promote the well being of society and ensure that their customers serve as effective brand ambassadors. You can learn more about using social media to build community, awareness, profits and positive impact by reading Simon’s book, reading his blog, and following him on Twitter at @SimonMainwaring.