Did you know that planting trees on Arbor Day can drive traffic to your site and grow your Facebook Page likes? And employee volunteer hours at a local fundraiser can elevate your search rankings and generate 5-star reviews of your business.
Ask any savvy marketing pro or SEO influencer and they’ll tell you: community involvement can do wonders for your company’s online presence.
Community Involvement Builds Corporate Image & Brand Reputation
Whether it’s by participating in a hunger relief campaign or investing in health and wellness initiatives, a business organization’s involvement in the community can go a long way in sprucing up corporate image and brand reputation. It’s also a powerful way to create business value and drive bottom line performance — in a way that is organic and inspiring.
- According to Cone Communications, 82 percent of US consumers consider corporate social responsibility (CSR) and community involvement when deciding where to shop and which products and services to buy.
- An EconPapers study investigated market reaction to companies donating to the relief effort for the 2004 Southeast Asian tsunami and found a positive 5-day cumulative above-normal return in companies that donated, with larger donations yielding greater increases in return.
- According to Harvard Law, community involvement and outreach efforts create distinct value that helps lower reputational risks in crisis situations, while also increasing customers’ willingness to pay premium prices.
- A Huffington Post report indicated that 41 percent of Americans buy products specifically because they’re associated with a cause, and 87 percent think companies should devote equal time to business and society.
Simply put: a socially involved and responsible business is more likely to attract customers that care about the community. It’s also in a better position to build and grow its online presence.
So, as we celebrate Arbor Day, let’s look beyond traditional methods and explore how community involvement can be integrated into your search and marketing strategy.
Participate in Local Community Events and Causes
It’s obviously crucial to invest in local search. According to Google, local searches lead 50 percent of mobile users to visit a store within one day.
But if you’re hoping to bolster your local presence and improve conversion (other than by increasing ad spend, say, or adding hundreds of pages of new content to your website), it may be worth your while to look into ways you can do outreach in local communities where you operate.
Regardless of whether you’re managing a brick-and-mortar business or running a multi-location enterprise, try to get involved in events and campaigns that are truly locally relevant. Halting rainforest destruction in the Amazon or saving the sharks in Guatemala is great, but it’s much wiser and more strategic to invest your resources in a cause that resonates with customers in the local community.
Also, cause sponsorship hit $1.85 billion in 2014; in such a crowded industry, the effectiveness of your community involvement rests on your ability to choose a cause your local community can truly care about.
Auto repair franchise Midas, for example, recognized that hunger is a daily reality in communities where its customers and associates live and work. In 2014, it launched Drive Out Hunger, a platform that raised awareness and generated support for hunger relief. Across North America, Midas stores partnered directly with community food banks and local businesses, setting up volunteer outings and turning their shop lobbies into food collection sites.
Fitted with the hashtag #1Mile1Meal, Drive Out Hunger also featured a social-media-fueled, hunger-fighting food truck. For every use of the hashtag, the truck traveled another mile and Midas donated another meal to a local food bank. The result: a donation of 1.1 million meals in 25 cities across the US and Canada — not to mention, increased online visibility, social media presence, and positive media coverage for the Midas brand.
Tie Your Involvement to the Customer Experience
Community involvement can successfully grow your online presence and generate unique marketing opportunities for your organization — especially if it’s directly tied to the customer experience.
Hotel Griffon in San Francisco, for example, offers discounted valet parking to hybrid vehicles. This may not seem much, in terms of scale, but because it directly benefits the customer experience, this small eco-friendly initiative has successfully generated positive buzz around the hotel brand. On TripAdvisor, Hotel Griffon enjoys GreenLeaders Silver Level status, and its guests have even taken to posting positive reviews that mention the lower parking rates for hybrids.
British retailer Tesco also managed to amplify its online marketing efforts by linking community involvement with the customer experience. A few years ago, it launched a loyalty program that awarded points to shoppers who used reusable bags. While others merely promoted reusable bags as an environment-friendly option, Tesco successfully seized a customer experience opportunity, subsequently generating great media coverage from the BBC, the Guardian, and numerous green living blogs.
Create & Distribute Fresh Content
If your business is doing something good for the community, let the community know. There are so many ways you can leverage your involvement and outreach efforts to distribute your own content and reach more people online:
- Communicate with local media and distribute press releases and media pitches.
- Publish blog posts or update your website to include information on local community events and causes you’re part of. You can also set up a landing page that’s designed specifically for people who would like to learn more about your community work. (Midas, for example, set up a dedicated page on its website for the Drive Out Hunger platform.)
- Update your business listings on third-party sites, social media, online business directories, and online review sites with information on how your company is making a difference in the community.
- Promote your community work through E-mail marketing campaigns. If majority of consumers today have a preference for brands that are associated with a cause, your recipients and subscribers are likely to welcome these types of messages.
- Participate and engage in online conversations that revolve around campaigns and causes with which your organization is involved. For example: if your employees volunteer their hours to plant trees as part of your company’s environmental commitment, stay tuned with social media content that carries the #ArborDay hashtag — and contribute to the conversation with your own updates.
- Take photos and videos of your company and employees participating in outreach activities, then distribute the content across online multimedia channels like YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook.
Community involvement represents a great opportunity for content creation: it can raise top-of-mind awareness for your brand without the need for hard-sell tactics, and it can inspire loyalty and brand advocacy among customers who care deeply about what a business stands for.
Track Your Results and Take Your Reporting Online
Large organizations with corporate social responsibility programs typically follow industry standards in reporting, producing 20 to 30-page PDF reports and academic papers that detail their economic, environmental, and social performance. But even if your organization does not have the resources to pull this off, you should, at least, make it a point to monitor and report on your community initiatives.
If you can, track your results. Tally the dollar amount or employee volunteer hours that your organization has given for a cause. Or place a tally counter on your site that tracks your carbon offsets, say, or the number of meals you have donated. This makes it easy for your audience to understand the extent of your community involvement and outreach efforts, especially at a time when consumers expect proof of positive change. Doing so also strengthens your online reputation with visual cues and quantifiable data that help demonstrate your commitment to the community.
Get the Right Partners on Board
As you get more involved in the community, keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to fly solo. Embrace causes and initiatives that make it possible for your organization to work with the right partners and draw upon their strengths, their networks, and their values.
For example, from 2013 to 2014, General Mills’ Cheerios worked with the American Heart Association (AHA) and marked its cereal boxes with an AHA-stamped code that consumers could then enter on the Cheerios website to make anywhere between a $1 to $100,000 donation to AHA. Not only did this campaign successfully crowdsource social involvement from consumers; it also drove traffic to the Cheerios website for the sake of a worthy cause.
Companies like Kia, Chevron, Google, and Starbucks, meanwhile, have worked with DonorsChoose.org, a non-profit that connects companies and individuals with high-need communities. DonorsChoose.org partnerships provide a personalized experience that allows donors to select the projects and causes they want to support, based on categories that support donors’ specific objectives: brand exposure, employee engagement, customer loyalty and acquisition, and more.
Getting involved in the community means giving time, money, products and services, employee volunteer hours, and company resources. Done right, however, it can also benefit your organization and help build your online presence. Simply put: it’s good business.
So don’t let community involvement and social responsibility be an afterthought or something you just throw together based on a prescriptive formula. Make it an integral part of your online marketing strategy, which will render valuable benefits for your business – and your community – in the long run.