Cause marketing through social media begins with community connection. In previous blog posts I’ve discussed listening and engagement in concrete terms. I’ve also listed practical tools that may be used. But there is also a philosophy behind social media cause marketing that has much more to do with management of community connections. Social media tools are only as good as the social skills with which they are employed. For community management these skills are subtlety, timing, relevance, collaboration and appreciation.
Subtlety: Keep it subtle. Listening and engagement in the cause should be the bulk of the interaction. Direct marketing should be around 10%. Too much marketing, too hard, too soon will drive the community away before we have gained the trust of its members. I learned this the hard way when piloting my Woman Food program. I did a phone poll and thought that was enough listening. It’s true that the process begins with listening, but listening also continues throughout the process. And listening is not enough. I thought I had community buy-in. As it’s turned out I had neglected to take time to allow its members to get to know and trust me before setting a timeframe for kicking off the program. Now I’m backtracking.
Timing: Timing is everything. We are continually listening for opportunities: opportunities to ask questions in the spirit of learning; opportunities to join conversations by responding to comments or questions. In the marketing phase we are listening for more specific opportunities: opportunities to gently nudge the conversation in the direction of our cause; opportunities to offer assistance followed up by a casual mention that our product (program/class/website) can provide more information on the topic. The right timing can eliminate starting from scratch with a lot of hard awareness building work. For example: a community member has just moved to the area and asks advice regarding finding a local supplier for a favorite vegetable. I might refer him/her to a CSA who supplies food for my program or extend an invitation to join other participants in a prearranged tour of the local farmer’s market.
Relevance: Make it relevant. Sometimes it’s necessary to introduce new content in order to build community awareness of the cause. If so, be sure the content has relevance to the community and then monitor and leverage any conversations formed around it. When marketing to multiple sites wording may be added or changed slightly on postings regarding any given topic to capitalize on the unique characteristics and interests of the community of each site. It’s sometimes helpful to relate event notices or program offerings to others that members have enjoyed or supported.
Collaboration: In cause marketing more emphasis is placed on collaborations and alliances than competition. I try to pull in reluctant converts or would be competitors by acknowledging their expertise and inviting them to share it by participating in my program. Many causes have found value in teaming up to offer complimentary services then marketing to the combined communities served by the organizations involved. This is particularly valuable to new organizations or programs as it lends credibility in the eyes of potential participants. An added benefit is that grant funding agencies actually prefer this. Businesses are also often on the lookout for opportunities to create these kinds of symbiotic relationships. They will gladly donate product or money in exchange for endorsement, acknowledgment or a simple public thank-you which garners them good will in the community.
Appreciation: At the Wellness Center when our communities respond with participation in our programs, events and fundraisers we thank them. The same is true of our staff, volunteers and associates. We let them know we appreciate not just their participation but them. Sincerity is a must. Even on line people can tell when someone is being a phony. Fortunately this is not difficult as we all believe firmly in the cause we are marketing, and care deeply about the members of the communities we serve. Then we invite them to tell a friend…because it’s social after all. With the careful employment of social skills to social media, marketing is not only tolerated it is welcomed.
Cause Marketing Welcome Mat
Susan Gigot-Klein is working toward a Master of Nutritional Science degree at UW-Stevens Point and is the creator and coordinator of Woman Food, a nutrition awareness program offered by the Wellness Center of Door County.