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Being social about social causes

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Within two days after Hurricane Sandy hit, I received a Facebook link from Causes asking for a donation. Within a week after the horrific killings at Newtown, I was asked to sign a petition for gun control legislation that already had more than 100,000 signatures. As of the writing of this article, more than 2.5 million people have signed the Sandy Hook Elementary School Global Sympathy Card.

While there are still some naysayers concerning the effectiveness of social media marketing, unsurprisingly, they become quiet when discussing the effectiveness of social media and social causes. I’m not sure what the difference is since the marketing of social causes and corporate services and products have many similarities, particularly their heavy reliance on word-of-mouth and emotional marketing.

One of the strengths of social media is its ability to elicit emotion. In fact, many of the most successful online marketing campaigns are designed to elicit emotion. Titles like “How to Engage Fans on …” and “Tonight We Create an Awesome …” and the like are designed to titillate your curiosity and get you to click on their link. Testimonials are golden and if they are sufficient in number or include an industry leader, they can effectively persuade interested people to take some type of action.

It is largely because of this emotional reaction and desire to help (which in itself is an emotion) that makes cause marketing so effective. Cause marketing helps create goodwill and attract attention to your company and brand. It also helps you distinguish your company from your competitors. Furthermore, if your company becomes passionate with your cause, you may also build advocates who generate buzz across a wide number of social networks, the requirement for a potential viral campaign.

In a recent study, public relations firm Edelman found that “when quality and price were the same, 53 percent of brands that had a social purpose were more likely to trigger a purchase.” Additionally, almost three times more monthly purchases were made from companies that supported social causes than ones that do not.

I haven’t examined the study or the analysis of the results, so I can’t say whether or not some bias existed in the study – particularly since Edelman will benefit from the results. I’m also somewhat suspicious about the “three times more monthly purchases” since that might be a result of better marketing or the particular products that were sold.

Yet, the results are compelling for two simple reasons: word of mouth and customer goodwill. The latter is the reason why many firms that accept payments include an optional donation for some charity; they help that charity and obtain goodwill from their customers.

Let’s try a simple test right now. Company A produces a great product that you need. Company B produces the same great product but also runs a passionate campaign for a noble cause – let’s say supporting childhood leukemia research. With everything being the same, which company would you purchase your product from?

Suppose Company A sent you monthly updates on their product line and Company B sent you monthly updates on the children they have helped – and if you’re interested, you may click on a picture or a link to learn the latest on their product line updates. Which email would you be more apt to respond to or remember?

Suppose Company B sweetened their mailing with a statement that 10 percent of every purchase would be donated to their cause. How would that affect your decision process? Would you also be more likely to discuss the offer or send it to your friends? This is the basis for many successful social cause marketing campaigns.

So, if you decide to take on a social cause campaign, here are some tips you can implement.

Find a charity or cause you strongly believe in, one that elicits an emotional commitment. Discuss this with your employees. If any of them already work closely with a cause, you might want to work with their cause if you also feel passionate about it. Focus on only one cause.

Contact the cause and discuss how you can help them. Based on your discussion, build a brief outline of the campaign you wish to do for them and discuss it again with them. (This sometimes works better with smaller causes than larger ones.) You only need two goals to make this campaign successful: you must genuinely want to help your cause and you must have a way of publicizing your involvement. A creative campaign that relies on referral marketing can be highly effective and stands the best chance of going viral.

Social media is a rapidly growing and evolving platform that has become an important part of our daily existence. In the process, it has altered how we do business, our methods of communication and our support of social causes.

Bruce Newman is the president of wwWebevents.com, a division of The Productivity Institute L.L.C. in Carmel. He is a social media guru and a specialist on webinar creation and promotion. Newman is currently completing a comprehensive webinar training course, The Complete Webinar Training Course – Everything you need to know to create and promote highly successful webinars, which will soon be available. He can be reached at bnewman@prodinst.com.

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