Leveraging Advocates and Influencers in a Successful Social Responsibility Initiative

September 19, 2016

By Susan Frech

A study done by Cone Communications in 2015 found that 90% of global consumers are likely to switch brands to one associated with a good cause. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has seen tremendous growth in the last several years, with companies like PNC allocating $100M towards CSR initiatives from 2010 to 2015. As consumers expect more and more transparency from companies, the argument for a comprehensive CSR strategy becomes easier every day. As the CEO of Starbucks says "the currency of leadership is transparency."

Your brand defines what you stand for and what's important to your business. Your own cohort of advocates and select influencers are likely to hold the same ideals. Several studies have shown that most consumers not only want to do business with a socially responsible brand, but also are willing to pay more for their products, and some 81% of millennials expect companies to make a public commitment to good corporate citizenship.

How can you leverage these groups to create a CSR campaign that resonates with both brand and consumer? With so many companies promoting their CSR activities, making a gesture isn't enough. Through word-of-mouth conversation, you can demonstrate the entire arc of your initiative from concept planning through execution. You can show your pledge to social responsibility through the voices of consumers, instantly reinforcing credibility and trust.

Embrace Feedback First

Too often, marketers rush towards producing an abundance of content or launching new initiatives before listening to what valuable consumers have to say about CSR efforts. Specialized influencers can offer a fresh perspective about which ideas, partnerships and initiatives they think like-minded audiences would be most excited about. Your own brand advocates can provide direct feedback from the viewpoint of a loyal customer, which is key, as these people will spot phoniness a mile away. We can think about how many companies have run into so-called "pink washing" with breast cancer awareness month. You'll learn quite a bit about your CSR by simply listening to what they have to say. So before asking them to broadcast your efforts, reach out to them for their opinion. Creating this feedback loop will ensure buy-in at the ground level from the people who can have the biggest impact.

Utilize Collaborative Content Creation

When Adobe partnered with Feed, an organization dedicated to fighting hunger, to create a holiday campaign, the company rallied their loyal users to put their creative design skills to use for a good cause. The process was filmed and posted to Adobe's site, and the top contestants' ads were published in InStyle, Women's Health, Elle and Good Housekeeping, to name a few magazines. They aimed to create a genuine partnership. But content doesn't have to come from professional artists, it can come from real people. Authenticity is key. Estee Lauder created a breast cancer action campaign where women shared stories of inspiration and survival. The campaign worked because the stories of real women had an authenticity that could not be replicated by the brand. Fostering collaboration between consumer and brand strengthens the core message of CSR efforts. Studies have found that when user-generated content is partnered with branded content it has been found to be 28% more effective.

Having a direct relationship with your advocates and influencers puts you in the position to activate them at key times, and it facilitates your ability to broadcast a clear message at scale. Through transparency and a willingness to give back to the community your consumers engage in, you set your brand apart. Influencers and advocates hold the power to tell your story across channels, and it is important for them to tell the stories that most positively impact their lives and the lives around them.

Source

"Leveraging Advocates and Influencers in a Successful Social Responsibility Initiative." MediaPost, 9/19/16.

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