Often, the best way to “do good” is to do well. Mission-driven founders are discovering that the reach, profit, and influence of a business can be a powerful agent of change. And at the same time, for-profit businesses are increasingly finding that social responsibility is not only the right thing to do but also good for business.
At the center of this convergence is social marketing: a tool that companies can use to create real-world impact. If you are passionate about making a difference in the world, read on for seven social marketing strategies your business can employ.
What is social marketing?
Social marketing is the process of influencing social behavior for the good of society as a whole. It is a form of marketing that uses commercial marketing techniques to promote non-commercial goals such as social welfare, environmental protection, or public health.
Social marketing has been used to popularize recycling, energy conservation, seat belt adoption, and more. But this approach isn’t solely reserved for nonprofits and government organizations. Software businesses and eCommerce brands can also use social marketing strategies to align their own goals with a broader mission.
Social marketing vs. social media marketing
Before we dive into social marketing strategies, it’s important to clear up a common misconception. Social marketing is not the same as social media marketing.
Social media marketing is a subset of digital marketing that uses social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok to build relationships and acquire customers. Social media marketing typically involves creating ads, engaging with followers, and partnering with content creators.
Social marketing, on the other hand, is oriented around changing people’s behavior for the greater good. Social marketing may leverage social media marketing or any number of different marketing strategies to raise awareness and make an impact. But the ultimate goal is always to influence people’s actions, not just their thoughts or perceptions.
7 social marketing strategies for growth
Now that we’ve established what social marketing is (and what it isn’t), let’s look at seven strategies you can use to grow while driving change.
1) Align your business goals with a social good
To drive social change as a business, consumers must first see your company as a force for good. This process starts with aligning your business goals with a social or environmental cause.
Here are several opportunities worthy of your consideration:
- Offset your carbon footprint
- Prevent domestic violence
- Promote racial equality and social justice
- Support local farmers and food banks
- Advocate for animal welfare
- Encourage sustainable living
- Fight for handicap accessibility
Your business doesn’t need to champion every social cause under the sun. In fact, it’s often more effective and believable to focus your efforts on just one.
Creating a win-win opportunity around that cause will signal to others that your business is genuine in its quest to make a difference. After all, it’s one thing to donate to charity. It’s another to build your entire business model around a central cause.
Fortunately, you do not have to sacrifice business objectives to affect change. Aligning your mission with a social good has several benefits:
- Attracting employees who share your values.
- Providing inspiration and motivation for your team.
- Building consumer trust and loyalty.
- Differentiating your business in a crowded marketplace.
2) Bring the problem to life
Changing behavior starts with building awareness and changing perception. In social marketing, this process starts by bringing the problem to life in a way that is tangible and hard to ignore. There are a few strategies that help do this:
- Share personal stories: When people see that a problem has affected someone they know, care about, or recognize, it hits closer to home.
- Use emotional appeals: Fear or guilt-based messages can be very effective in getting people to take action. But be sure to use them sparingly, or they can backfire.
- Present statistics and data: Hard numbers can drive home the severity of a problem and spark discussion.
- Reveal the human cost: Numbers and stats are important, but they can also feel abstract. Highlighting the real-life human impact of a problem can be a powerful way to get people to care.
- Show, don’t tell: A picture is worth a thousand words. Wherever possible, use visuals to bring your message to life.
- Create a sense of urgency: Help people see that the problem is time-sensitive and requires immediate attention.
Remember, the goal of social marketing is not simply to get people to acknowledge that an issue exists. The goal is to create concern and help people see themselves as part of the solution. By bringing the problem to life, you can bridge the gap between awareness and action.
3) Create a symbol for your mission
People are visual creatures. We respond to what we see far more than what we hear or read. So it should come as no surprise that a strong visual identity can be one of your most powerful social marketing tools.
Creating a symbol for your cause — often in the form of a logo or trademark — gives people a way to quickly and easily identify with your mission. It also allows you to unify all of your marketing efforts under a common banner, making it easier for your audience to support the cause.
Think of some of the most recognizable symbols in the world and the causes they represent:
|Pink ribbon||Breast cancer awareness|
|Black paw print||Animal welfare|
|Rainbow flag||🏳️🌈||LGBTQ+ rights|
|Red ribbon||AIDS awareness|
These symbols are simple, yet they are incredibly effective in getting people to support the causes they represent. Creating a symbol for your social marketing campaign can have a similar impact in time.
4) Craft visuals that elicit emotion
Symbols are not the only way to drive awareness and action. The images you use in your marketing campaigns can also play a big role.
Humans are hardwired to respond to certain types of visuals. And when used correctly, these visuals can help you elicit the desired response from your audience.
For example, images that show people in need or suffering can create the sympathy and compassion necessary to motivate action. Pictures of children or babies take this a step further and activate our natural desire to protect the vulnerable.
On the other hand, uplifting images can also drive change. Pictures of smiling or hopeful people reinforce the idea that change is possible and inspire people to get involved.
The key is to use visuals that evoke the right emotion for your cause. If you can create this type of reaction in your audience, you will be one step closer to getting them to join your mission.
5) Design for virality
Social media has made it easier than ever for ideas and targeted messages to reach the masses. But if you want your campaign to spread organically, you must design with virality.
Unfortunately, creating viral content is not an exact science. But a handful of key factors make certain pieces of content more shareable than others. And if you can incorporate these elements into your social marketing campaigns, you will improve the odds of your message reaching a wide audience.
As you design your next campaign, consider these tactics:
- Emotion: As we mentioned before, emotion is a powerful driver of social media engagement. The more emotion your content elicits, the more likely it is to be shared with others.
- Newsjacking: Newsjacking is the act of attaching your message to a current event or news story. This can help you tap into hot topics and trends, boosting your campaign’s reach and engagement.
- Simplicity: The simpler your message, the more likely it will be understood and shared. So don’t try to cram too much information into your campaign. Keep it short, sweet, and to the point.
- Visuals: Content with strong visual appeal is more likely to be shared than text-based content. Make sure your campaigns include compelling images, infographics, or videos.
- Novelty: People are drawn to new information. If you can share data, insights, or stories that are unexpected or unusual, you will capture attention and increase the chances of your content being shared.
6) Be authentic and tell your story
Most businesses with social missions have stories to tell. Perhaps you started the company because you were personally affected by the problem you are trying to solve. Or maybe you have seen first-hand the difference your product or service can make. Whatever your story may be, sharing it can be a powerful way to engage with your audience and get them invested in your mission.
The bottom line is people connect with other people. And people are more likely to support a cause or buy a product if they feel a connection to the story behind it. So don’t be afraid to share your personal story or the story of your brand. It just might be the thing that sets you apart from your competition and helps you achieve your social marketing goals.
7) Have a clear call to action
Calls to action are an essential part of any marketing campaign, and social marketing is no exception. If you want to affect change, you need to tell people how they can support the cause.
But don’t expect everything to happen at once. Social change is a slow process. And your calls to action should reflect this by asking people to take small, manageable steps. These micro-commitments can be as simple as sharing a post or changing a profile picture. Over time you can build up to bigger asks like “sign this petition” or “donate to our cause”.
Each ask acts as a stage in the marketing funnel guiding people toward deeper engagement. And as more and more people take action, the collective impact of your campaign will begin to snowball, driving real change in the world.
Social marketing examples
For real-world inspiration, check out these examples of companies that have embraced social marketing to make a difference in society:
Patagonia is a clothing company with a commitment to the “preservation and restoration of the natural environment.” The certified B corp has donated over $140 million to grassroots environmental causes since 1985. It strives to create simple, durable apparel that stands in the face of fast fashion’s disposable culture.
Patagonia’s core values reflect the brand’s social mission. It pledges to “cause no unnecessary harm” and “use business to protect nature.” These values are deeply entrenched in the way Patagonia does business — from the materials it uses to its “Worn Wear” recycling program.
Customers know that when they buy from Patagonia, they are supporting a company that cares about the planet. This has helped Patagonia build a passionate community of brand advocates who are invested in the company’s purpose.
Fluxx is a mission-driven software company that aims to simplify the process of grantmaking. By creating a more transparent and data-oriented approach to philanthropy, Fluxx hopes to make it easier for organizations to achieve their social impact goals.
Fluxx’s software is designed to save time, improve decision-making, and enable better collaboration between grantmakers and grantseekers. In addition to its software offerings, the company champions diversity, equity, and inclusion and belongs to the Pledge 1% community. From the product to its stated mission and values, everything about Fluxx reflects its commitment to amplifying social impact.
TOMS is a shoe company that popularized the buy one give one business model. Starting in 2006, the impact-driven company began donating one pair of shoes for every pair sold. By 2020, the company had donated more than 100 million pairs of shoes. Now, the business donates 1/3 of its profit to supporting broader social initiatives.
TOMS offers cash grants to community organizations that align with its “purpose, planet, and people” initiative. From mental health to sustainability to anti-racism, TOMS is tackling some of the most pervasive issues facing society.
Social marketing allows organizations to make a difference in society while growing their businesses. By taking a values-based approach to marketing, you can connect with like-minded consumers, build a passionate community, and achieve real-world impact.
Just remember, social marketing is all about authenticity. So be sure your campaigns reflect the true values of your organization — anything less could do more harm than good.
If you are ready to embark on a social marketing mission, you won’t get far without help. Check out our guide on how to implement marketing automation for tips on streamlining your social marketing efforts!