Over the last several years, we've seen a tremendous shift. Consumers are more actively seeking opportunities to make positive change, making purchasing decisions and supporting brands that are accelerating causes that are important to them. As a result, a new business model has emerged: socially conscious consumerism.
According to a recent Nielsen poll, half of global consumers said they would be willing to pay more for products from companies that give back to society. Another study found that 91% of global consumers are likely to switch brands to one associated with a good cause. Businesses and nonprofits are taking notice, making larger investments in cause sponsorship, which is predicted to reach $1.78 billion in 2013, up almost 5% from 2012, according to the IEG Sponsorship Report.
This business model must be supported by strong communications to be successful. In today's cluttered cause landscape, it's not surprising that one study found 70% of consumers say they are confused by the messages companies use to talk about their CSR initiatives. With so many companies and nonprofits tugging the heartstrings of consumers, it takes clear, consistent, and savvy communications to stand out.
Both corporations and nonprofit organizations alike are asking how public relations can be used to activate communities around both mass social and more specialized causes. The answer is simple, but isn't always easy to achieve: you have to create a movement.
Making people care about your cause is the most important - and often the most difficult - thing, especially in today's crowded cause landscape. But there are some essential principles that we as communicators can leverage when activating communities around a cause.
Make your story have impact
Companies and nonprofits must dig deep to uncover the rich and meaningful stories that illustrate the power of their cause and what it means to the global community. Leverage your story as an opportunity to create a call to action and rally those affected by or passionate about your cause to do something now. Equally important is how you choose to tell your story. Digital and social storytelling offer opportunities to not only tell a story, but to show it and allow people to instantly share or support it, revolutionizing what we call “grassroots momentum.” A great example is charity: water, which has utilized videos really effectively to educate consumers about their cause and the broad benefits of clean water, as well as to inspire viewers to learn more and take action.
It's more than just finding the right communications channels, it is about finding the right influencers, advocates, and opinion shapers who will serve as the catalysts for your message, building buzz around the importance of your cause. Influencers like celebrities, thought leaders, and academics, as well as the partners you work with and the volunteers who support you all have the potential to carry your story and activate communities. One great example of putting this in action is DonorsChoose.org, which empowers public-school teachers across the US to create projects and enable donors to personally and directly help students, with inspiring results.
Build and activate communities
Once you start building your following by bringing people into the fold and making them care about your cause with effective and compelling storytelling, it's critical to keep them engaged. This can be achieved with a steady stream of relevant content, with some small “asks” or actions that individuals can take, such as participating in events or sharing content with their followers online. Every November, I am reminded of this as I watch the ING New York City Marathon and the runners campaigning for an array of diverse causes. The marathon is a great example of how organizations can engage motivated individuals to champion their cause, connect to it personally, and spread the word on a grassroots level.
As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” In today's socially conscious world, I am inspired that we can use communications to achieve this. It is possible to not only advance important causes, but to create a world where the companies that excel are the companies that care.
Rachel Spielman is EVP and global head of corporate communications at Ruder Finn.