Why marketing your construction business CSR programs through social media platforms is good for business.
Let’s not split hairs here, the majority of CSR programs are a good thing. Besides the business agenda, at the very least some ‘social or sustainable’ good is being done. However, is it really still acceptable to invest time and energy in planning and running Corporate Social Responsibility [CSR] programs if the only ‘promotional’ outcome is a flimsy report?
May I suggest not…
A report, although full of do-good information, is dull. More importantly, a report won’t provide a platform for the hardworking participants, employees and volunteers to share their experiences. Reports don’t tend to have legs – especially if they are buried in pdf’s deep in a corporate website.
But times, I think, are a changing…
My usual marketing mantra is this… “marketing anything effectively is about having a marketing objective aligned to a business goal.” Then I’ll usually rumble on about how the quality of research you do upfront should be matched to the ‘where are we now?’ data you have available etc.
Clearly, campaigns based on facts mean you start delivering relevant messages to a qualified prospective audience much quicker than those based on guess work. You can make connections on identified platforms sooner, encouraging interaction and following up on the interaction by engaging with meaningful dialogue and useful content. You can start to build relationships too.
At Pauley Creative we say there are at least these 6 key steps to an effective marketing plan:
- Research your audience.
- Profile the types of audience you wish to speak to.
- Create useful content that is relevant to the type of audience.
- Engage with the audience in a meaningful way – on multiple channels.
- Inspire your audience to act on your messages.
- Measure what matters.
Marketing your CSR programs should be no different. You start at the beginning. You ask good questions and create meaningful and measurable goals to gauge success. Measure outcomes, as my esteemed colleague would say.
How CSR marketing has changed.
On a recent research mission I came across this 2009 slideshare presentation by Lovely Day which among other things nicely demonstrates the evolution of CSR in marketing terms:
The act of applying a sustainable or environmental message to your product or service when there is no substance to that message. “Greenwashing” will put your company’s reputation at stake, as we suggest in this post – What is greenwash and why will it affect your construction business.
There are rules for this sort of thing nowadays… The ASA suggests that ‘Legal, decent, honest and truthful’ messages are what is required. I tend to agree as we wrote about this – Is your online marketing legal, decent, honest and truthful?.
Integration is very good. As part of a company’s sustainable policy, reducing supply chain carbon output or reducing packaging waste / fuel consumption and so on, is all good marketable stuff and, so long as your claims are clearly substantiated, you should shout it from the rooftops.
In Lovely Day’s words; “Leveraging social good to create innovative business ideas”. This is most definitely the way forward.
One particularly innovative and effective business idea is ‘Cause’ marketing. Where companies who partner local or national organisations, those that have already built a credible reputation for tackling a particular social or environmental issue, win on the back of that organisations’ reputation and authenticity.
If your construction company is already capitalising on great business innovation then this is good news. Hopefully, your company will also be promoting all this good stuff via effective messages on relevant social channels and not keeping it to some stuffy report that’ll rarely be read.
Our recent popular study on how the top 15 construction companies are using social media suggests there is some work to be done here. And yet there are social CSR stars out there…
One such business innovator is Larry Sullivan, the founder of Coins Global. Larry is a fantastically inspirational character, an entrepreneur and business leader within the construction industry.
Having built his construction software company [among several other companies] Larry now spends most of his time promoting the Coins Foundation through various speaking events for business schools in the UK and abroad such as Cranfield and Harvard Universities.
He uses the events the foundation runs, like the Coins 3 Peaks challenge and the Coins Coast 2 Coast cycle ride to promote and raise money for his foundation. He targets his customers to take part in the activities and this gives both parties the opportunity to meet in a non-business related situation building deeper, more meaningful relationships as a result.
The foundation also uses social networks Twitter to inform their audience on how the events have gone, how much money was raised, where the money goes, promoting the business teams who have taken part and so.
The Coins foundation has a separate website (image above) that is set up to give him analytics information that can be used in future campaigns to extend the reach of the activities that the foundation is running – raising awareness to do more good.
Measuring the ensuing impact on website analytics programs is not perhaps the most natural thing for CSR programs but ideally they should be treated in the same way as any other marketing campaign. Any information that could potentially improve the outcome is important as discussed in this post on measuring campaign effectiveness.
Lots of risk, plenty of opportunity:
At a recent presentation at SXSW on ‘New media and CSR: Communicating good’ panelists discussed four key emerging trends in Corporate Social Responsibility. They hammered home the message “that your brand is no longer under your control”…
…and that the risks and opportunities of transparency especially for larger companies is real and making them vulnerable to ‘Brandjacking‘ and yet… “Ironically, being transparent — even about your faults — can lead to increased stakeholder engagement.” BP take note.
Their third point made sense of why marketing your CSR programs to a broader audience makes good business sense. They make three good points:
“Potential partners want to work with a sustainable company…
Employees want to work for a company that’s making a difference…
Potential employees look to CSR reports and other information to get a sense of the corporate culture”
And lastly, they discuss employee pressure. Increasingly, the company employees are having a say on which social programs are adopted within the company… “Your message should be one of shared values. It’s about the stakeholders, not just about the company.”
The ‘bottom up’ approach paves the way for faster buy-in from other employees, colleagues and peers, and also reduces internal cynicism and scepticism.
This is not to say that the board can sit back and watch it all happen, they too should take part. Indeed strong leadership only enhances the company’s position on CSR but it doesn’t necessarily have to come from the top, that’s the point.
A board level involvement is a key sign that the company is taking their chosen programs seriously. ‘Appearing authentic’ can only enhance the ‘being authentic’, so don’t let your board be shy about your company’s endeavors.
The Native Orchard Education Programme in Walton-on-Thames is a wonderful example of a local company reaching out to the local community and generating good exposure for both program and business in the process (below from the official press release):
Ashley Primary School in Walton-on-Thames saw the launch of the ‘native orchard education programme’ with guests including MP Dominic Raab and Blue Peter Gardener Chris Collins. The project was developed and sponsored with commercial interiors specialists Fourfront Group, and has the backing of National Fruit Collection Brogdale Farm and The Royal Horticultural Society.
The environmental educational project has been developed to not only benefit Ashley Primary School, but will also be portable so other schools can follow the template. It is hoped the partnership between Fourfront Group and Ashley Primary School will encourage other businesses to form similar partnerships and contribute to the local community.
The simple fact is; people and businesses connect and do business with people and businesses that do good. Got that? Companies look good doing good. Good things get done by companies doing good. Simple. Fact.
The exposure this project has generated has reached not only local but national press and Fourfront Group’s presence for the project ‘search terms’ on Google shows just how much information they have made available – Google ‘Fourfront native orchard education program’. This short video shows how ethical link building strategies are an important part of your SEO strategy.
This project among the many others that the company and staff undertake backs up the company’s core values. Their staffs’ efforts have landed the company in the Sunday Times Best Green Companies 2011, achieving number one position in the category for “Making the world Greener”.
And they don’t just bury the news in reports, they shout about it. The Group head of marketing, Ben Murray is particularly keen on social networks and drives good traffic back to his company’s websites using company and personal profiles on both Twitter and LinkedIn.
In a recent blog post featured on the Harvard Business review blog network Susan McPherson discusses ‘Why CSR’s future matters to your company’.
She suggests four areas of significant interest to those embarking on CSR programs. She emphasizes the need to lift restrictions and empower the engaged employees. She shows how companies can really benefit from Cause Marketing.
She disucsses how taking the good marketing fight to social platforms (as well as the traditional) to inform and build relationships with the ever-sceptical consumer is a battle that is worth getting involved in. And she also maintains the importance of encouraging board level-engagement.
Both the HBR blog post and the SXSW presentation come from the same place – Authenticity. The underlying message that whatever program you run needs to be wholeheartedly authentic or you will be found out.
Reputation, reputation, reputation.
There are shining examples of what can be achieved in terms of online exposure, but none without making a real marketing effort. Not without a well thought out plan. After all there is no reward for random acts.
Here’s my top 5 sure-fire ways to attract more attention for your construction company’s Corporate Social Responsibility progams.
- Share your CSR programs across the company, write in detail about what is going on, who is involved and how others can get involved too.
- Empower staff to talk about the program to their own personal networks. Do not restrict conversations, you are only hindering the companies progress. Get yourselves a good non-restrictive social media policy.
- Listen [use Google alerts] to how the programs are being accepted within the community. Gauge the sentiment and get involved in conversations.
- Take great footage on film and in pictures and write about each event as it happens, the lead up and the outcomes. A picture tells a thousand words but a thousand words are useful too.
- Place your content in all your corporate social profiles, on your website, your blog, drive the traffic back through twitter, Google+, Flickr, LinkedIn and continue the conversations on your facebook page.
So, in summary, it’s really no longer acceptable to create CSR programs in a vein attempt to pacify shareholders, NGO’s, the green press and sustainability watchdogs. The old ways aren’t engaging enough. Not authentic enough. They don’t have appeal or give credence to the great work that has been done by hardworking employees and volunteers. You are missing a trick.
What are your experiences of company CSR programs? Are you engaged? Do you feel your company is perhaps too small to be able to run one effectively but you’d like to get involved in projects anyway? I’d love to hear your thoughts…
And of course, if you’d like to talk about how you market your CSR programs to a broader audience both internally or externally please get in touch – +44 (0) 1908 671707