How to engage customers in your social good?

There’s been a tremendous increase in the interest that people take in what businesses do for the community and how they contribute to the greater good. As they are a part of society, businesses are expected to play their part in solving social and environmental issues and people genuinely care about that.

When I say people, I mean everybody: employees, business partners and customers alike. And since customers are, for obvious reasons, considered the most important group among stakeholders, their perception of how you do on the social engagement front is clearly essential.

This is why companies that understand the importance of social engagement to business success and how these two variables are becoming increasingly interdependent, go to great lengths to make sure customers know about their efforts.

Many business owners have realised now that clients will punish them if they don’t. Thus clients are indeed the very reason why many companies do anything social in the first place.

There’s no doubt about the fact that customers are critical to a company’s success and growth. Yet, what some businesses forget is that customers’ influence can be positive just as much as it can be negative. When it comes to social engagement, clients could be an incredible asset because guess what: they are part of the community that companies strive to help.

Some of the most robust and successful social engagement programs I have experience with, as a philanthropy consultant, are the ones that engage customers in the social mission and make them a part of the story.

So how do you involve customers in your bigger purpose? Here are a few ideas but keep in mind that it is not one or the other, it is normally a combination of a few things.

Communicate what you do

If a company’s social mission is as important as its business, as many companies claim, then this should come through in all sorts of communication. From your website, to your social media, to how much your employees know and talk about what you do in terms of social impact. Give the social side of your business the space it deserves on your website. The regular CSR page with a vague mission on it and no details on what you actually do, is not really enough. Talk about your impact and how it ties in with your business throughout your website, put up real life stories, photos that show what you do, interesting facts, etc. Same applies to the Social Media end. Use Social Media as a platform to talk about how you help, whom you’ve helped this week or month, how your clients can help, etc. The fact that you talk about what you do tells volumes to your customers and helps get them excited about your social cause and that is the first step.

Ask for advice & direction

When you communicate what you do community wise to your clients, you get them engaged as they can see how your efforts actually make a difference in the community they are a part of. And since customers are indeed a part of this community, they would be the ones to know best what is needed the most and what the best approaches would be. Let the ideas for strategies and tools used to support the community or help environmentally come from your clients. Use online surveys to invite your customers to contribute with ideas, get them to vote on Facebook on social strategies you want to implement and encourage them to email you with proposed solutions. One of the reasons why corporate solutions to social issues (or governmental for that matter) often don’t work in reality is because these solutions are normally forced onto local people from an outsider who doesn’t actually understand the local context and the source of the problems. Giving the local community a voice means that the actions you take will be based on the context, will be coming from the community itself and will remedy the source of the problems rather than just treat the symptoms. This in turn means that your solutions will be much more effective.

Give customers the chance to participate

In other words, invite them to help make a difference with you. And when I say help make a difference, I don’t mean stick a Donate bucket at the cashier desk or a Donate button on your website. Or at least not just that. People today have a tremendous urge to feel that they are doing something meaningful and that they are helping to change somebody’s life. A donation doesn’t really push that button as people are not directly involved. All it does is leave them with a feel-good emotion that lasts 5 minutes. When you are consistent in your social efforts and you communicate the results of them, your efforts inevitably resonate with your clients. This is when you create a sort of community around the cause you stand for and once you have that, your customers can become active players in your social mission. Invite them to participate actively through volunteering events that you organise, through causes that you initiate and through helping your employees in the social work they do. Ultimately, this is what you are trying to achieve with all your efforts – make customers a part of the social force you strive to become as a business.

Customers today are becoming increasingly cynical when it comes to companies’ social engagement. Tired of CSR efforts clearly designed for marketing purposes and obvious superficial social strategies, customers are hungry for genuine, specific social causes that make an impact and for the chance to contribute themselves. Providing your customers with this has many benefits. On the one hand, it really differentiates you from the rest of the companies out there. On the other hand, having your customers on your side enables you to significantly increase your social power, influence and the impact you make, whether societal or environmental. Building a positive image and thus loyalty among your customers are consequential benefits but obviously ones that are not to underestimate either.

If you would like to make your business a force for social change but don’t know how to go about it, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. As a business mentor specialising in business growth and philanthropy endeavours, I know I can help you make a difference in a meaningful way. You can get in touch with me, Paul Davis, here.

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