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5 Ways Business Executives can Create Enriching Social Impact

09th Apr 2018, 06:28

In the wake of 2017, the words 'corporate social responsibility' and 'social impact' are teetering around executive meetings and conferences as if the bottom line depended on this verbiage. Why?

Last year was another tumultuous year in the spectrum of sociopolitical events. There are a handful of moments one could point toward, that either contributed to a seemingly widening disparity or brought people together through positive social impact. 70% of Americans believe companies have an obligation to take actions to improve issues that may not be relevant to their everyday business, according to a corporate social responsibility (CSR) study organized by Cone Communications. On top of this, the same research shows that 87% of Americans would purchase a product if a company advocating for an issue aligning with their beliefs, while two-thirds will refuse to purchase if a company supports an issue contrary to their beliefs.

What this means for businesses is that developing a corporate social responsibility initiative and driving value-based action through social impact is integral for enterprise-growth. In a pragmatic sense, consumers care—it will affect your bottom line. Companies like Patagonia, Ben & Jerry's, and NuSkin have made their businesses genuine platforms for social impact. Whether a company promotes fair labor practices, advocates for a healthier food system, or creates initiatives to donate to the needy—social impact strategies go beyond PR and marketing campaigns. A value-driven company has a legitimate chance to make a difference.

As with many things in business, there is no magic formula to developing a successful social impact strategy. However, the best approach is genuine and systematic. Read on to discover the tools your organization needs for a corporate-driven social impact strategy integrated into your business plan.

5 Methods to Build a Social Impact Strategy

Authentic Branding

Many view social impact and CSR as different from obsolescent virtues of philanthropy. Corporate social responsibility is an on-going safeguard for a company's reputation. CSR plays into PR by mitigating company stances when issues occur. Social impact is more ingrained in the company's brand and at the crux of every business is their brand. A company's brand is the liaison between the company and the public. Public relations and marketing departments propagate this brand. Without a strong and genuine brand, these efforts can fall flat. Think of a brand as the story a company tells.

Even Google's font tells this story and as the debate over net neutrality heats up, the company has voiced its stance on the issue, aligning with Google's mission statement to continue to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." Another example is Yahoo. As the company rolled-out their Green Initiative, they used already strong assets of their brand to push forward Eco-friendliness. The company featured articles on eco-friendly consumer tips on their home site--aligning with their brand and purpose.

As your team develops social impact strategies it's important not to lose sight of your core values. Typically, a company's values not only promote ethical decisions but maintain the bottom line. Your brand tells this story of the how and why of your business. From here, it easier to see a snapshot of possible value-driven social impact strategies.

Avoid Marketing Social Blunders

There is nothing worse than being at a party and hearing a social faux-pas. Someone says something offensive, usually without even being conscious of the distaste of their comments, then everything becomes tense. This happens on a corporate level too. The biggest blunder of last year was arguably the way United Airlines CEO, Oscar Munoz, handled a video of airline attendants forcibly dragging a passenger off the plane. The video went viral across social media, giving United Airlines some very negative press. Instead of issuing a genuine apology, Munoz issued an icy statement that many perceived as ingenuine. Instead of an outright apology for the incident, which was clearly mishandled, he offered a vague apology and defended the poor judgment of his employees.

Consumers can see right through the CSR thought-process, viewing Munoz’s statement as a quick-fix, , not a sociopolitical message or true, genuine apology

This year, these gaffes are predicted to continue as social media and technology enables marketing teams to proliferate campaigns almost instantly. Having the public discern your company as disingenuous could be more harmful than having no CSR in place.

On the other side of this spectrum, Ben & Jerry's recently launched the Stamp Stampede campaign—customers rubber-stamping messages in protest on dollar-bills. Since bills in circulation have a longevity of two-and-half years, and on average, are viewed 875 times—this makes a fun, impactful social strategy. Instead of a phony ad that oversimplifies a tense issue, Ben & Jerry's has given their customers a platform. This way, the company gets social impact clout without running the risk of a PR scandal because accountability falls to the consumer, not the company.

Marketing Your Brand with Social Impact in Mind

Integral to your business strategies—social impact and business impact—is defining clear goals and measuring, to ensure these goals are met. Just as your marketing team uses tools to identify and report metrics for marketing purposes, they will need tools to measure social impact. Many companies use a system called tracking Objective and Key Results (OKR). Tracking tools like Google Analytics or marketing software like Hubspot will calibrate for your social impact strategies. Approaching your marketing systematically also helps identify what social impact strategies your customer base values. Using customer profiles alongside your core values can unveil a good starting place to launch initiatives.

Keep in mind that an organic social impact strategy is not solely metrics and data. Values are genuine, your marketing campaigns should be too.

Practice What You Preach

One of the most applause-worthy moments in social impact last year ended on a bitter note. State Street Global Advisor installed a statue called "Fearless Girl," a symbol of female empowerment that faced the infamous Wall Street Bull. The only issue is that the company's policies contradicted what the statue actually symbolized. A few months after the statue was built, the company became involved in a $5 million-dollar lawsuit over underpaid female and minority employees. The irony of this was not lost on the company's customer base. This is another example of how critical honest value-driven social impact is for business growth. Without putting your values into application, you run the risk of being exposed as fraudulent.

Before launching a social-impact strategy, you may consider doing an 'ethical audit' of your company's business practices. One of the biggest strengths of the Panera Bread Franchise is the meticulous work the company does to ensure the quality of its ingredients. The company has a "No No List" of dozens of ingredients they refuse to use in their food. This refusal complies with their mission statement of uncompromising, clean food. Panera's social impact is offering wholesome meals free of harmful ingredients while transparency reinforces the company's values and authenticity.

Unilateral Decision Making

Within CSR and social impact, there is a shift from corporate-driven strategies to value-driven strategies. This shift is pushed by the idea of social impact itself—every rung of the corporate ladder from the CEO to the intern needs to be on board with the changes. Corporate responsibility, social impact, and sociopolitical stances need to be written down within a company's business plan, even non-partisan decisions. Writing down policies maintains transparency and accountability. Not only should a company unanimously agree to corporate social policies and stances, but these stances should be celebrated. This celebration is part of a congenial company culture. As you know, having strong company culture helps retain talent, drives creativity, and creates a conducive atmosphere for inspiring work.