Why social media makes brands do good

Image: Miss-Social.com

You hear a lot of social media commentators calling for brands to do good, myself included. So does that make us naive, idealistic or unrealistic? Nothing could be further from the truth. No one expects companies to turn over a new leaf or be any less self interested than they have been. Their first responsibility is still to their shareholders. Rather, I exhort brands to do good not just because it’s well intended but because it’s well-received.

Social media has enabled consumers to dialogue with brands. In fact, consumers are sharing the stewardship of brands as they produce, distribute and curate feedback and content about the brands that they buy. As such social media plays a critical role in how brands build awareness and generate consumer goodwill and loyalty that ultimately translates to profits.

Consider the examples of  Walmart’s Sustainability Index, P&G’s ‘Click for Water’ blogivation campaign, Starbucks ‘Shared Planet’ and the Pepsi ‘Refresh Project’. Yes, all these companies have embraced such initiatives because its good for the planet, its inhabitants and the business world in which they operate. But they also did it because those actions are meaningful to their customers. By doing so it allows them to participate in social conversations and engagement that would not be possible if they simply talked about themselves. In short, because of social media doing good now becomes a  powerful way to generate word of mouth advertising.

This is not conjecture or wishful thinking. In 2009 the Edelman 3rd Annual Global Consumer Study surveyed 6000 consumers ages 18-64 across 10 countries. Here are just some of the statistics showing the extent to which consumers want a better world and are willing to support those corporations that make an effort to deliver it:

  • 83 percent of consumers are willing to change their consumption habits if it can help make tomorrow’s world a better place to live.
  • 82 percent believe supporting a good cause makes them feel better about themselves.
  • 61 percent have bought a brand that supports a good cause even if it was not the cheapest brand.
  • 64 percent would recommend a brand that supports a good cause –up from 52 percent last year (up 26 percent in Germany, 10 percent in the UK).
  • 59 percent would help a brand promote its products if there was a good cause behind it.
  • 56 percent believe the interests of society and the interests of businesses should have equal weight in business decisions.
  • 66 percent of people globally (67 percent in the U.S., Canada, France and 69 percent in India) believe it is no longer enough for corporations to simply give money away to a good cause; they need to integrate good causes into their day-to-day business.
  • 59 percent of people globally (61 percent in the U.S.) have a better opinion of corporations that integrate good causes into their business, regardless of the reasons why they do so.
  • 65 percent of people have more trust in a brand that is ethically and socially responsible.
  • 64 percent of consumers say they expect brands today to do something to support a good cause.
  • 63 percent of consumers want brands to make it easier for them to make a positive difference in the world.
  • 67 percent would switch brands if a different brand of similar quality supported a good cause.

Results from another 2010 study confirm the same feelings from consumers, especially in regard to the beliefs about corporate responsibility held among Moms and Millennials. This survey, the Cone Cause Evolution Study, found the following:

  • Millennial generation consumers have an even greater preference to do business with responsible companies than the average consumer. In 2010, 85 percent said they would switch brands if it were involved in a good cause if the price was the same, versus 80 percent of all adults; 53 percent of Millennials have purchased a cause-related product in the last year versus 41 percent of all adults; and 81 percent of them would buy a product where a portion of the cost supports a cause, versus 85 percent for all adults.
  • “Moms” show the highest preference for corporate responsibility, even beyond Millennials. In 2010, 93 percent said they would switch brands if it were involved in a good cause if the price was the same, versus 80 percent of all adults; 61 percent have purchased a cause-related product in the last year versus 41 percent of all adults; and 92 percent would buy a product where a portion of the cost supports a cause, versus 81 percent for all adults.

Doing good not only makes a company’s employees happier. It not only creates a healthier business environment. It not only represents great PR for the brand. Perhaps most importantly it also  allows brands to leverage social media to generate positive word of mouth advertising that directly impacts their profits. As social media platforms like Facebook and twitter keep growing and as the web itself becomes increasing social, this is only going to become more important to brands and consumers. This presents an exciting and arguably unprecedented opportunity for business leaders. They can now better serve the interests of their shareholders by building a better world.

Do you believe doing good makes brands more likable to consumers? Or do you believe that what people say about brands on social media makes little difference?