Strategic community marketing.
It’s the foundation of any successful social impact strategy. But winning a community’s trust is no easy feat; you need to consider ideas for outreach and engagement that demonstrate the authenticity of your initiative and tap into potential customers’ passions and needs. This is the only way to achieve buy-in from the ground up. To get there, start by looking within—consider how you can build a corporate social responsibility initiative or adapt an existing initiative that speaks to your community and aligns with your company’s purpose.
First, it’s essential to understand the importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in today’s society. Since 2020, CSR has become more vital to a business’s success than ever before. Global events have accelerated consumers’ shifting expectations of modern businesses. Not so long ago, companies could get by while focusing solely on sales and profits—but today’s buyers want corporations to develop meaningful social impact programs to benefit their workers, the environment, and the greater communities they serve. People also have more access than ever to information about which companies are really making an effort.
And businesses are finding that good CSR initiatives can boost their bottom line, as well. According to this Cone Communications CSR Study, companies that support social and environmental causes are far more likely to win customer loyalty and gain a positive public perception. Over the long haul, that kind of value far outperforms traditional paid advertising for revenue growth and sales.
But no successful CSR strategy can survive in isolation. You need thoughtful, sustained community engagement and positive relationships to ensure your social impact program motivates change and makes a meaningful impression on consumers. You also need smart marketing content to bolster your efforts.
Whether you’re building your social impact CSR strategy from the ground up or looking to improve existing initiatives, community marketing ideas can help you achieve greater engagement and growth. Here, we dive into different strategies that are proven to boost community buy-in and attract customers.
1. The best community marketing ideas are born from understanding
Your company doesn’t exist in a bubble—you’re part of a unique, diverse community, both physically and online. And before you take on a new marketing initiative, it’s crucial to have a holistic understanding of the history, people, cultures, religions, politics, and passions that define your community.
Start local. While many businesses are moving to online work, it’s likely that your company still has a brick-and-mortar footprint in local communities. Stop to take stock of how your company has connected with your local community in the past. Do you know your neighbors? Have you ever held or taken part in a community event? What about local government—have you introduced yourself to your town council or city mayor?
And don’t overlook your online community, especially on social media. Consider your business’s website, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and Yelp pages (just to name a few examples—there are many different ways to connect with the people in your online community). What sort of interactions have you had with consumers and customers via these online touchpoints? Have you conducted online community outreach in the past?
For local and online communities, as well as social media, do the research. Invest time in understanding the pain points that drive your community to action and the social causes that garner support. Be sure to read the content produced by nonprofit organizations and social wellness campaigns in your community—and even subscribe to their email lists. If you build your CSR strategy in a silo, you’ll lose authenticity with your audience.
2. Look within to build support for community marketing ideas
Your company is its own kind of community—and you’ll need your employees’ support to get your social impact initiatives off the ground. But your employees are also excellent resources for connecting with your greater community; some of your team members may have rich ties to different social networks in your town, or they may work with local nonprofits. They may also be excited by the possibility of volunteering together as a group.
Consider conducting an email survey asking your employees about their interest and knowledge of local community organizations or events, like farmers’ markets, fairs, and festivals. Invite feedback from employees on how your business could fine-tune its social impact program to be more relevant to the community’s needs.
Welcome this feedback with openness and respect; your employees may offer opinions that are critical of your CSR, but criticism can lead to more authentic and actionable social impact.
If there’s healthy interest in your CSR strategy from employees, consider forming a Social Impact Group or committee of internal stakeholders; your invitation will foster better relationships and prove that your commitment to CSR is genuine.
It can also be helpful to document your employees’ engagement and experience through special content on your blog or website, ideally with images. This can serve to celebrate employees and also help spread the message about your CSR to a wider audience.
3. Venture out to engage with your community
Authentic community marketing requires you to be outgoing. Explore beyond the walls (or screens) of your company to discover local events and help build relationships with your community. Local parks, coffee shops, libraries, community centers, schools—these are all locales that regularly host events where companies can showcase their products, purpose, and CSR initiatives to potential customers. Reach out to local business organizers to learn more about how your business could get involved.
But before you set up your operation, take the time to consider your marketing strategy. Putting out a folding table with informational pamphlets is a good start, but the best community marketing engages your audience and creates a memorable experience—perhaps an attention-grabbing video display that explains your CSR initiative, some healthy snacks to entice visitors, or some props that help demonstrate the importance of your cause.
However, it’s also essential to make sure your engaging marketing doesn’t tarnish the validity of your social impact program. Too much fun and games (a selfie station, for example) could come off as tone-deaf to your community, and invalidate your advocacy for serious causes among customers. Think of community engagement as in-person advertising for your brand—aim for genuine and sincere.
Develop a strategy that works best for your company and showcases your CSR—then get out and make the effort. To help, here are five examples of actionable CSR initiatives that lend themselves to a variety of community marketing ideas.
4. Consider a sponsorship to support your CSR and your community
If your CSR initiative is broad—you are committed to helping the environment or supporting youth education—sponsorship can be the ideal solution for connecting your mission with your local community and with future customers.
And there are so many ways to engage in sponsorship, each with its own benefits and opportunities for community marketing, advertising, and audience-building: you could sponsor a youth sports team and have your company’s name on their jerseys; support a larger event, such as a marathon or triathlon, and align your business with other trusted CSR initiatives; or partner with a nonprofit to sponsor a day of service or long-term project.
Engaging in sponsorship is worth the effort. It will increase awareness of your business, products, and services (thus promoting future sales), while proving to your community that you’re committed to following through with your CSR strategy.
Consider sharing information about the sponsorships you currently offer and have already provided with your company’s email list, as well as on your website and social media. Keep in mind that a humble approach, focusing attention on the organizations you’ve sponsored, is always the best way to present and promote your giving.
5. Host your own community event
Sometimes, you need to think outside the box—and when it comes to community marketing, that can mean organizing your own event. Invite your neighbors, followers, and customers to share an experience with you; prove to them that you’re willing to spend money and time to showcase your commitment to CSR.
The same best practice for attending an event applies to hosting an event: create a moment for fun, genuine engagement, but make sure your CSR remains the focus. You’re working to demonstrate your commitment to a social cause, and that’s serious business. It’s possible to create an event that accomplishes both purposes; consider hosting a day of community service, organizing a community auction (which could even be virtual on Facebook), or putting together a food drive.
See for yourself
From corporate giving to grants, employee engagement, and events, Submittable’s platform can help your business increase its social impact.
Organizing a community event isn’t an easy marketing strategy, and you shouldn’t undertake this challenge unless you’re prepared to put in the work. Also, it’s vital to make sure you have buy-in from your company’s C-suite and employees—putting together a large event takes a village. But the benefits of hosting an engaging, informative event are manifold, especially for enticing potential brand advocates and future customers.
This is an opportunity to explain your company’s history and future goals, showcase your CSR strategy, and prove to your community that you’re committed to enacting real change. If you can pull this off, your brand will come off as authentic and trustworthy; your community will come to understand you and support you.
Maximize the impact of your community marketing ideas
Don’t be intimidated by the obstacles that community marketing presents. This is an opportunity to understand what your community members care about and see if your CSR strategy meets their needs. Maybe you’ll even learn that your CSR should evolve, and that’s okay. In fact, growth and change will enable you to discover new insights—this way, you’ll show your community and your customers that you’re committed to doing good, not just looking good.
Taking the next step to market your CSR program can be tricky, but there are CSR platforms to help you on this journey. Submittable helps teams launch, manage, and measure social impact programs, making it easier to tell your brand’s story and save time for community engagement. Essentially, a CSR platform should be built to help your company do good, better.
Because in the end, social impact is what matters most.
This article was created in collaboration with Halina Loft.