When was the last time you retweeted an opinion piece you didn’t agree with? Or shared a fundraiser you didn’t care about? I’m guessing never. We turn to social media to share our passions, opinions, emotions, and experiences. We put our social media selves behind things we enjoy and believe. If we share something that contradicts what we represent, we make our position clear. And more than ever, this value-driven association must extend to your brand’s social media presence.
We’re no longer in a world where social media marketing, or any form of marketing for that matter, can ignore cultural context. Social media marketing has morphed from a medium of awareness and advocacy to one of activism. Brands that care and brands that act stand out. Looking ahead, your social media strategy needs to center on a mission higher than your bottom line. Let your brand be a force for good. Don’t plan a 2018 social media strategy, plan a 2018 social media movement.
This movement should answer two purposeful questions about your brand mission.
“What do you stand for?” is the first question.
Use your social media channels to take a visible and coherent stance related to your brand mission. Support, or even start, a cause or campaign that contributes to a higher purpose or social good. According to a survey of 1,000 U.S. adults by marketing research firm Toluna, almost two-thirds of people actively seek out brands that support specific causes. Similarly, research by Cone Communications found that 87 percent of Americans purchase products from companies that advocate for an issue they also care about.
Make sure you authentically and consistently support your brand’s purpose. Haphazard efforts lacking sincere commitment will fall flat. As philanthropic advisor William Usnik asserts, “You can’t fake caring. If you pretend to care about a cause you align with, or a cause that is important to your customer, you won’t succeed. Caring to make a difference must be part of your culture, your drive, and your passion at all levels.” This sincerity must infiltrate your social media strategy through timely campaigns and evergreen mission messaging.
Mission means different things to different brands. Here are just a few examples.
For brands like Always, taking a stance is about audience empowerment. Its ongoing Like a Girl Campaign aims to help girls stay strong and confident during the tumultuous time of puberty. This social media campaign uses powerful videos and relatable stories to present “like a girl” as a positive phrase. It elevates the audience through a strongly brand-aligned mission that has no direct sales push.
For other brands like Uber, it means audience protection by supporting the safety of its customers. Uber partnered with MADD to launch a Leave the Keys Campaign to prevent drunk driving, especially during the holidays when fatalities from drunk driving spike. The campaign encourages riders and drivers to pledge to keep the roads safe. The social media content provides education about safe driving and highlights customer stories.
For the NBA, mission means audience activation to promote social justice. The NBA partnered with GLAAD to support its anti-bullying Spirit Day Campaign. The annual campaign promotes speaking out against bullying and pledging in solidarity with LGBTQ youth. The NBA leverages its social media channels to increase awareness about an issue that prevents many young athletes from freely and safely participating in sports.
And for Ford, mission revolves around audience education about fuel economy. Ford partnered with extreme adventurer and filmmaker Devin Graham to launch the One Tank Adventures Campaign. Graham documented his adventures in a Ford Focus with a single tank of gas to promote sustainability. The campaign also solicited stories from social media audiences about what they would do with a full tank of gas and a Ford Focus.
Taking a stance can alienate some people, but you can’t please everyone. Wouldn’t you rather lose the attention or even the business of those who disagree in favor of attracting and retaining advocates who share your brand values? You don’t need to associate with a polarizing cause or campaign, but you do need an unwavering mission that can build traction over time. Now that you’ve backed something, it’s time to make concrete change.
“What are you doing about it?” is the second question.
Awareness and advocacy are admirable, but they aren’t enough. The action is essential—and expected. Your brand’s social media channels offer platforms of proof, but your answer to this question goes beyond social media. As Gavin MacMillan, Head of Strategy at Ogilvy Melbourne, explains, “We’ve moved beyond the eras of the image and cultural branding to a world where only the useful brands count. To be helpful, you’ve got to think beyond brand ideas to content and utility that reflect passion or resolve the tension.”
People don’t hesitate to act on their expectations for brands. Harvard Business Review research shows that 85 percent of global consumers are more likely to recommend companies with a strong purpose. And the Cone Communications study found 70 percent of Americans believe companies are obliged to improve issues beyond daily business operations, leading real change for both society and the environment. The viral potential of social media makes it the prime medium for widespread action.
You can’t just stand behind an idea, you need to make real-life moves like these brands.
Donating your products or services in a one-for-one match connects a cause directly to your bottom line. TOMS integrates this approach with its business model by donating shoes and other services to people in need for every purchase. To celebrate its anniversary, TOMS held a Without Shoes Campaign, giving a pair of shoes to an underprivileged child for every Instagram photo of bare feet posted with the hashtag #WithoutShoes.
Fundraising campaigns give your audience the chance to contribute to your purpose and builds loyalty and community through a shared goal. In a month-long campaign curated with the hashtag #86AIDS, HelloFresh partnered with (RED) to donate $20 to the fight against AIDS for every (HELLOFRESH) RED meal kit ordered by a new user. People also had the chance to donate independently through the HelloFresh website.
Your brand’s commitment to action should become an internal value, not just an external campaign. Volunteering as a team creates a mission-driven culture of service. Eli Lilly and Company is dedicated to supporting local communities around the world. Every year, they host a company-wide Global Day of Service and share the experiences on social media using the hashtag #WeAreLilly.
Sponsoring an event inserts your brand in its activities and social media conversations. Reebok is the national sponsor of the annual Avon 39 Walk to End Breast Cancer, a 39-mile walk that raises money for breast cancer prevention and research. Reebok developed an Avon 39 Collection featuring pink gear and clothing for its Shop for a Cure Campaign and committed to donating up to $750,000 to the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade.
Working for all types of brands including Uber, Victoria’s Secret, Samsung, Dignity Health, and Walgreens, I’ve gone through plenty of social media ups and downs throughout my career. Now I do nonprofit marketing for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles where mission and meaning are inherent in our work. Social media activism is always risky, but it works when it’s focused and genuine. Diversify your content, but not your causes. Lacking a clear purpose will dilute your message and impact.
Living in an imperfect world, we crave meaning and action. There’s no shortage of natural disasters, political controversies, tragic violence, or personal conflicts. As the most immediate and interactive marketing channel, social media reflects the needs of society. Brands should think and act selflessly to advance a higher mission. Start 2018 with the resolve to launch a social media movement, and see what change you can make.