People are good. Your company should be too.
I believe in the inherent goodness of people. You can hear it thrumming in the voices of folks like Mr. Rogers and Malala Yousafzi. You can run your fingers through the waters outside of Gander, Newfoundland or those treated by Generosity.org and watch the eddies that goodness makes.
People are, at their very core, good. Not just good. We’re helpful. Even in childhood, we prefer helpers to hinderers.
We can get caught up in the competitive nature of business, but taking the time and making an effort to do good and help others is the only way to move forward. And that’s where corporate social advocacy comes in.
I’m not here to convince you that it’s right or beneficial to be a corporate social advocate (though it could, at the very least, increase your brand awareness through the 84% of people who share things online that support causes they believe in).
Instead, we’ll look at how best to do good for the biggest impact.
3 questions to set your corporate social advocacy program in motion
Everyone has something they care about. Whether it’s physical fitness in young adults or homelessness, there are causes that speak to you and—by extension—your company.
But how do you figure out the best cause for your company to support?
First and foremost, you need to check with the identity of your entire business. Do your employees as a whole care about X, Y, or Z?
For smaller companies, you can simply poll your employees. For larger companies, it might be more challenging, so you should create a team dedicating a diverse array of voices within your company to discuss what cause to support.
Chances are, certain things matter more to certain people, and because businesses are large bodies with many opinions, what you should prioritize in terms of outreach and advocacy will be the stuff of many debates.
You can narrow things down by asking these three easy questions:
1. What is the scale of the cause you want to support?
Your company could be massive, spanning time zones and continents, or it could be a single brick-and-mortar shop in a small suburb.
The size of your company and breadth of its resources are closely tied to what cause you’re capable of supporting in an impactful way.
It’s easy for larger companies to scale their efforts down, but it’s much harder for smaller ones to scale up. At the end of the day, you need to look at your resources and ask: “What’s the most impactful thing I can do with my current capabilities?”
A small shop can easily support a local community garden to help combat neighboring food deserts. A large corporation can host a gala or event to raise funds and awareness or give their employees 40 hours of paid volunteer time with a particular charity.
There’s no competition in goodness. Small efforts are no better or worse than larger initiatives. It’s a question of what you’re capable of doing, and what you’re willing to do now.
2. What type of cause will be well received?
You care about a great number of things, and your customers do too. But that doesn’t mean your customers always want to hear your personal opinions.
To know what they’re interested in, you have to go beyond generalizations and attend to your customers’ values. You can do this through surveys using “I am____” statements to see how people respond on scales:
- “I am hopeful that self-driving cars will reduce carbon emissions [1…2…3…4…5]”
- “I am passionate about providing improved mental health resources to combat veterans [1…2…3…4…5]”.
There are, of course, certain topics that people are more receptive to hearing about from businesses. At the Gartner Marketing Symposium earlier this year, Gartner Analyst Lindsey Roeshke observed that there are even certain topics people consider off-limits for discussion from marketers and businesses.
Thirty-nine percent of consumers say businesses should stay silent on political issues, versus 20% when it comes to social issues and 10% on environmental issues (full research available to Gartner clients).
You have to make sure that your advocacy efforts don’t just align with your values but with the values of your clients and leads as well.
3. What type of cause can you actually speak to?
Rule number one of corporate social advocacy: Don’t be Pepsi.
Its ad about uniting the world over a can of soda was only effective in that it united the world against Pepsi. Why did it fail? Because the company had no connection to or history with the Black Lives Matter movement that its ad took inspiration and visuals from.
Compare this to Nike’s support of activist athletes like Colin Kaepernick and recent videos supporting female athletes around the World Cup. Nike is an athletic company, and using their corporate social consciousness to support individuals and initiatives within that space makes sense.
Though these are examples of B2C companies and their advocacy, the same goes for B2B.
If you work in learning management software, participating in conversations about increasing teacher salaries, ending school lunch debt, or student loan debt forgiveness are all well within your wheelhouse. But if you work in data protection software, it might be hard to find a way into that breed of advocacy.
Make sure the cause you support is one that your company can speak to with authority, so it doesn’t feel as if you’re hitching a ride on the advocacy bandwagon. After all, only 23% of consumers believe you’re in this for altruistic reasons. This is your chance to prove them wrong (in a good way). (Full research available to Gartner clients.)
Use your answers to take action, and be more than just a vocal supporter
McDonald’s, on World Women’s Day 2018, flipped the M on its signs, turning it into a W.
Clever? Not really. Cute? Maybe. Misguided? Absolutely.
Because beyond just flipping their sign, the company didn’t participate in any women’s rights-focused activities or contribute to the cause. They continued having a massive gender disparity in their upper management, and failed to address pay gap among their employees.
Being a corporate social advocate means walking the walk, not just talking the talk.
How to act externally
Don’t be like McDonald’s. There are several steps you should take to demonstrate that your company has actions to back up its good words.
Step one: Find a good partner
For every cause, there are (typically) dozens of nonprofits that exist to address that cause. These organizations are experts in the field, and can aid your quest to contribute. Partnering with nonprofits also lends credibility to your mission, and does so in a way that maximizes your effectiveness.
Don’t skip vetting any potential partners, though, as not every nonprofit is without issue. Check to make sure any partner you’re considering hasn’t experienced any recent controversy, is known for business practices that actively reflect the cause you both support, and has a strong enough following that you’ll be able to demonstrate your commitment to a wider audience.
Step two: Figure out how to effectively partner with them
There are any number of ways you can support these nonprofits. The best way to start is by asking them what would be most beneficial for them.
This could mean you wind up doing one of a few things:
- Providing monetary support by donating a portion of your sales
- Packaging aid boxes
- Providing manual labor
- Addressing clerical needs
- Using your own digital platform to assist in raising awareness
At the end of the day, it’s not about you and what makes you feel good, but about what accomplishes the most good for the cause you’ve chosen.
Step three: Be part of the conversation
Before you start promoting your partnership, though, you should simply engage in the conversation around your chosen cause. One need look no further than the ice cream aisle for an example of a company that does this really well.
Ice cream company Ben & Jerry’s continuously engages in conversations online about an array of topics, including the climate crisis, GMOs, and meat and dairy products from cloned animals.
Follow their lead with these four steps/actions:
- Ask questions online, and read articles about topics related to your cause.
- Begin talking to thought leaders in a related space, asking questions or offering ideas.
- Educate others about your chosen cause(s), including your own employees.
- Promote your chosen partners, as well as your own missions and goals regarding your cause.
How to act internally
Follow these three main steps to ensure that your company’s interior personality matches its exterior actions:
- Educate your employees on your cause and rally them around it as a main goal of the company.
- Enact policies that mirror that same goal.
- Enable your employees to contribute to other causes with your support.
Make sure your company’s policies are aligned with your mission. If you’re supporting environmental causes, go paperless in your office. If your advocacy champions equality in the workplace, ensure equal pay and paid family leave.
It’s straightforward, authentic, and fosters trust among employees who see you acting on your beliefs.
Encourage others to follow your lead
Good begets good. You should encourage others to do good, too, whether through supporting your chosen cause or one of their own.
I want to hear about the cause you’re supporting, any partners you think are doing truly good work, and help you on your customer advocacy journey. Connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn, and consider it a space to talk about the good work you’re interested in, getting started with, or have been doing for a long time.
Good needs its space. I’m excited for you to do it. I hope you’re excited to be it.
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