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Why Social Media Makes Brands Do Good


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 % of consumers are willing to change their consumption habits if it can help make tomorrow's world a better place to live.
  • 82 % believe supporting a good cause makes them feel better about themselves.
  • 61 % have bought a brand that supports a good cause even if it was not the cheapest brand.
  • 64 % would recommend a brand that supports a good cause —up from 52 % last year (up 26 % in Germany, 10 % in the UK).
  • 59 % would help a brand promote its products if there was a good cause behind it.
  • 56 % believe the interests of society and the interests of businesses should have equal weight in business decisions.
  • 66 % of people globally (67 % in the U.S., Canada, France and 69 % 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 % of people globally (61 % 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 % of people have more trust in a brand that is ethically and socially responsible.
  • 64 % of consumers say they expect brands today to do something to support a good cause.
  • 63 % of consumers want brands to make it easier for them to make a positive difference in the world.
  • 67 % 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 % said they would switch brands if it were involved in a good cause if the price was the same, versus 80 % of all adults; 53 % of Millennials have purchased a cause-related product in the last year versus 41 % of all adults; and 81 % of them would buy a product where a portion of the cost supports a cause, versus 85 % for all adults.
  • "Moms" show the highest preference for corporate responsibility, even beyond Millennials. In 2010, 93 % said they would switch brands if it were involved in a good cause if the price was the same, versus 80 % of all adults; 61 % have purchased a cause-related product in the last year versus 41 % of all adults; and 92 % would buy a product where a portion of the cost supports a cause, versus 81 % 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?

Reprinted from

Simon Mainwaring is a branding consultant, advertising creative director, blogger, and speaker. A former Nike creative at Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, and worldwide creative director for Motorola at Ogilvy, he now consults for brands and creative companies that are re-inventing their industries and enabling positive change. Follow him at or on Twitter @SimonMainwaring.