Corporate Philanthropy and Social Media: Engaging Your Audience, Elevating Your Cause

Jun 21, 2017 1:00 PM ET
Campaign: CEO Corner

Corporate Philanthropy and Social Media: Engaging Your Audience, Elevating Your…

When #GivingTuesday launched in 2012, it provided a counterpoint to two massive celebrations of consumerism: Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, and Cyber Monday. Now some of us will do just about anything to avoid shopping, but both days are intended to lure people out of their post-Thanksgiving food coma to jumpstart the holiday retail season.

But in recent years, retailers faced a backlash from citizens who felt like the focus on buying eclipsed the true purpose of the holidays as a season of giving. To fill that void, #GivingTuesday encouraged people to donate to charity and used social media to inspire giving at scale.

When it comes to corporate philanthropy, social media is a powerful tool to share stories, engage audiences, and advance good work. In an earlier post, we discussed how companies can talk about their corporate philanthropy programs in an authentic way. In this post we want to share our ideas on how to engage your audience using social media. By doing this, you can demonstrate good corporate citizenship, while inspiring more people to join your cause.

Start in the right place: As we noted in our previous article on telling your corporate giving story, it’s important to understand where your audience is. Which social media platforms does your target audience use? Before you even start posting, spend time on those channels and do some research. Build a list of people to follow who are influential with your audience and who are doing good work in your field. See which posts from others are getting the most comments and shares and apply those best practices in your own posts. Start to engage even before you promote your own work (more on this in a second). By interacting within the community first, your own posts will be natural, not forced attempts to promote your work.

If you’re not already on social media, take the time to learn about the different platforms and pick the ones where your audience has already formed a community. Spend a few months watching and listening before you begin your own social media campaigns. Some of us can occasionally be guilty of speaking before listening (or even thinking) but you’ll pay the price if you do this on social media. It pays to hang back until you have the lay of the land.

Engage, don’t brag: Companies that over promote their philanthropic efforts will be viewed as insincere—even if those efforts really are good. Remember the #humblebrag? “I am so exhausted from all those trees I planted today. They should call me Mother Earth!” Avoid it at all costs. To engage without self-promoting, schedule a few posts related to your own giving, but then quickly move on to focus on others. Respond when someone engages in a social conversation, comment and share the posts of others, and give a shout out to organizations you think are doing good work or something outside the box.

When it comes to philanthropy, remember that it takes collaboration to truly make a difference. Social media is a great forum for highlighting how your partners, grantees, employees, and customers are working toward a good cause.

Christy Duncan Anderson, Executive Director, The Albertsons Companies Foundation, shared with us that their organization uses internal channels to ensure that employees know about the results of their corporate philanthropy programs and feel good about being part of an organization that is making a significant difference. Her team is also very savvy about using metrics to tell its impact story to a broader audience, using graphics and tangible examples of the results of their giving. For example, in 2016, they served five million breakfasts to kids. That’s a big, impressive number. But when communicating these metrics, where brevity is king, it packs a bigger punch when they say that Albertsons delivered the equivalent of thee grown elephants in peanut butter, 450 bathtubs of dry cereal and enough eggs to get to the top of Mt. Everest. Get the picture?

Also remember to look outside your own sphere and champion the efforts of others doing good work. As digital influencer relations expert Andrea Learned puts it,  “Love them up.” In Versaic’s case, we have no shortage of clients and partners who are doing great work and it’s easy for us to spread that love by promoting their work on our social media channels.

Focus on what matters. Talk about key issues, why those issues matter, and how to address them. The emphasis should be on solving problems. To engage with your audience in an authentic way, your discussions shouldn’t just focus on what you have done (see above), but on why action is needed and what kind of action works. Aim to inform your audience about the nature of the challenge and inspire them about the possibility of solutions. This will demonstrate that your company is truly committed to addressing the issue and is strategic about solutions.

When crafting social media posts, use data points that demonstrate the magnitude of the problem or photos that capture why action is needed. (Remember those elephants?) Identify leaders who are creating solutions, and applaud them, or use your digital media channels to profile their work. Join social conversations about the problem and learn from the leaders to inform your own corporate philanthropy strategy to truly make a difference.

Demonstrate impact: Transparency is becoming increasingly important in the world of philanthropy. Rating sites like Charity Navigator help people understand how different nonprofit organizations spend their money and what kind of impact they have. When it comes to corporate giving, it’s important to be transparent about what you are giving, why, and the impact it is having. You can easily share this information using social media—especially through images and infographics that invite the reader to learn more about your work.

Inspire action: I have saved the best for last: You can get the most value out of social media when you use it to build community. When it comes to your corporate giving program, you can use social media to build a community of purpose and give your audience the tools and ideas to inspire action—which has the bonus effect of increasing progress on your cause. And that is something you can brag about!