Thank you to everyone who came to The Mill Breakfast Club on 4 September. It was a pleasure to spend 20 minutes chatting to you about how SMEs can use social media as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy. I hope you found the discussion interesting and useful – this post is based on it (though I have made it more universal than Norfolk specific) – please join the conversation by commenting below.
Use social media to support your community and build your brand
The following idea, on how you can use social media to build your reputation as a good corporate citizen, applies to every business no matter what its size (here corporate doesn’t just mean big). At the same time, it will give you something interesting and useful to say on social media – rather than saying nothing (or worse yet, saying something boring). This idea encapsulates my belief that good conversations build strong communities by bringing people together around shared interests.
Social media is a huge subject but I want to focus on what to say and how to engage your audiences, which is what really matters. However, before I start, I am going to make three assumptions about you and your business:
- You use social media for business to find and engage with your audiences
- You want to be seen to be socially responsible (not irresponsible or indifferent)
- You understand you have a brand (even as a sole trader) and that building its credibility (familiarity and favourability) with your audiences takes time and care.
A quick aside: Your social responsibility might be your next big opportunity
With those assumptions in mind, I just want to say a brief word about what I mean by good CSR. Being socially responsible doesn’t simply mean complying with laws governing the social aspects of businesses, such as working conditions, health and safety, or waste disposal. A good CSR strategy goes beyond compliance and looks for ways to turn each socially desirable action into a competitive advantage – one that creates marketing or, better still, real business opportunities.
For instance (purely hypothetical), you have a legal responsibility to comply with the WEEE Directive on the disposal of electronic goods. A marketing opportunity might involve reconditioning old computers and donating them to local schools. A business opportunity might involve developing a low margin, high volume line of cheap recycled computers for sale to individuals and communities.
Listening is the key to understanding
To know what those marketing and business opportunities might be, it pays to know your audiences both internal and external extremely well. Social media platforms not only can help you engage but also can help you listen to those audiences. Good listening is the key to productive conversations.
End of aside.
What do you say after you say hello?
There are plenty of good resources explaining the why and how of setting up and managing social media accounts for business. However, they tend to deal with the mechanics: what to say in your profile, how to analyse your RTs, when’s the best time to post, how best to use lists. Few really get down to the essential ‘What’ of social media, which is to engage and influence by listening, responding, reciprocating and sharing.
This leads me to the three most important points to remember about social media:
- The clue to using social media is in the name – it is social (and sociable) not broadcast – and good social discourse (particularly in the public domain) thrives on engaging conversations
- People value authenticity and relevance both in others and in their conversations – they want a mix of interesting, useful, entertaining and shareable information – and they prefer to get it from people who share their values
- Constantly selling yourself (or your service) is boring – some might even say it is arrogant or vain – either way, it is a one-sided conversation that turns people off and undermines your brand’s credibility.
So how do you turn these three guiding principles into good conversations? My advice is to remember the 80/20 rule of social media:
- Avoid the mistake of point 3 by making sure no more than 20% of what you say is directly sales related (and even then it needs to be subtle – we might deal with that in a later post).
- Use the remaining 80% of your posts to build brand familiarity and favourability by giving your audiences what they value (see point 2) – authentic conversations.
Even if you don’t buy into this idea of using social media for CSR activity, the 80/20 rule can still help you create an effective social media strategy. However, since you are spending time on social media, you may as well use it wisely to do some good and build brand favourability in the process. If you can’t be a financial philanthropist, you can at least be a time philanthropist by dedicating much of your 80% activity to supporting your local community or promoting socially responsible activities.
So what socially responsible activities might resonate with your audience? I’d suggest the same things that resonate with most people: things that benefit them, their families, their friends, their businesses and their communities. And to understand what those things are, you have to think local – by which I mean local to your audiences (and to understand what your audience thinks of as ‘local’ or ‘community’ you will need to listen to them – see my earlier point).
Using your 80% wisely
Here are four suggestions for what you might talk about or even champion for 80% of your social media time – think of these as themes and look for specifics within your own business.
- Things your team does to make your audience’s community better, safer, cleaner, happier, friendlier or more prosperous. Particularly if it involves working collaboratively with the community – since people tend to like team players. For instance, organising a mass litter pick, learning first aid (life skills that save lives), or fund raising for a local school or charity.
- Social or cultural events going on in the community – charity runs, free events at public libraries, new exhibitions at local public galleries and museums, village fêtes, county-wide public consultations.
- Things you have done in your business or personal life to become environmentally friendly – such as reducing waste, increasing recycling, planting wild flowers, planting trees to offset carbon emissions, or supporting a cycle to work scheme.
- Social causes that matter to both you and your audience (remember, this has to be authentic – so choose carefully don’t just leap on a bandwagon and hope it makes you look good). These could range from committing to buy local and fair trade products and services, to taking on apprentices, offering flexible working, paying a living wage rather than just the minimum wage, or supporting diversity and opportunity for all in business and society.
As I’ve said before, I believe communities are stronger when they work together. Look around you – identify your audiences and your shared communities of geography or interest. Then work out how you can use your social media time to support and improve those communities – it’s not just good business sense, you’ll find it personally rewarding too.
Thank you for reading
This is one in an occasional series of posts about social media and business communications. If you find them interesting or useful, please give them a star or five and share with others. I hope you will join the conversation by adding your views below or contacting me on twitter or Google+.