Partnering with Social Causes Requires more than 140 characters or a Fast Swipe

For this week’s class blog prompt, the editors remarked: “In an age of instantaneous visibility, sharing and viral-ity social media presents a unique opportunity for brands to simultaneously further social causes and build their own credibility…”

Indeed, social media has contributed heavily to the instant gratification culture of the day, and companies should leverage this phenomenon. Yet when considering the key principle to adhere to when partnering with a social cause, a brand should reject the culture of “instant” and instead build a long-term, recurring partnership. By associating social causes with the convenience and spontaneity of social media, a brand risks coming across as overly opportunistic and disingenuous — in it simply for its own gain rather than earnestly committing to a positive cause. Certainly, social media can be used to advocate and market the partnership, but a company should be wary of simply jumping on the latest trend, when it comes to social causes.

For example, just about every brand posts on its social media account some variation of condolences when tragic events occur. While these sentiments are appreciated, they do nothing to differentiate a brand. Even donating to a relevant cause does not typically build up a company’s reputation or credibility. For instance, this page (screenshot also provided) tracks a list of American companies that provided corporate aid to victims affected by the April 2015 earthquake in Nepal.

Screenshot of U.S. Chamber of Commerce page highlighting corporations that donated to support those affected by the earthquake in Nepal

Although very generous and noble, I’d be surprised if the average consumer was aware of any of these efforts, and even more surprised if a company’s magnanimity affected purchasing decisions. The lesson here is NOT that a company shouldn’t donate to these one-time, contemporary issues. But when looking to build a brand and associate oneself with a social cause, a company should look to form a long-lasting partnership. By doing this, consumers will begin to form these associations in their mind, and the brand can build up positive credibility of being a reliable, recurrent supporter of social changes. A few examples of companies that have done this well include:

  • Ralph Lauren and its Pink Pony Fund
  • TOMS and its One for One
  • Nike and Livestrong (prior to the Armstrong’s cheating scandal being exposed!)

In each case, the company provided ongoing support for a social cause and by doing so, allowed the brand to become strongly associated with the cause. In the environment of social media, with its instantaneous nature, companies need to ensure that their efforts to partner with social causes do not appear blithe, and committing for the long-haul is especially imperative to ensure that the company appears authentic and credible.