The Intersection of Digital Marketing and PR: Social Responsibility and Its Vital Role in Contemporary Markets
The socially conscious consumer is not a new development in the world of marketing and communications. Back in 2012, Nielsen conducted a survey asking consumers about their preferences when it comes to the social responsibility efforts of companies. Two thirds of consumers surveyed indicated that they preferred to buy products from socially conscious companies, and nearly half said they would pay more for products from companies they know to give back socially.
With millennials on the rise to become the dominant consumer group in America, and wealth transferring quickly from baby boomers to their children, the socially conscious consumer is only becoming more common. The rise of this new demographic presents extreme challenges to companies who wish to stay contemporary and tap into the millennial market. It also provides those companies with opportunity, if they can remain agile enough to take advantage of it.
Digital Marketing: A Saturated, Exhausted Environment
Let’s face it, digital marketing is a bit of a nightmare for everyone involved. A new tactic appears, unscrupulous companies abuse it until users are sick of it, and then users find ways to block it. That or they demand that the platforms they use limit the practice. We saw it with on-page ads; it just happened with Facebook de-prioritizing business pages; and even emails that a user signs up for tend to get automatically sorted into a “promotions” folder in their inboxes that they never look at.
The woes of a digital marketer are many. On the other hand, many social media and marketing professionals find a great deal of success, and it all tends to come down to one thing: engagement. Convincing a user to engage with your content online by reading, sharing, commenting, or moving to a landing page, is how so many successful brands stay on top in a marketing space that is almost entirely oversaturated.
There’s a lot of advice out there about how to narrow down your niche to avoid or combat online content saturation, but saturation isn’t just about your particular niche. People, in general, are bombarded with people advertising to them whenever they are online. There’s a strong argument that the very act of digital marketing is a saturated market — the market is people’s attention.
Social PR Helps Align Your Company with Issues and Active Searchers
One sure way to overcome saturation is to be what people are searching for, instead of pushing into their space. This is the difference between running an ad on a social media page, and creating a page that people have reason to seek out. Inviting people into your digital space, otherwise known as inbound marketing, expressed in its purest form as search engine optimization (SEO), is one of the most effective ways to captivate attention. This process is a lot more involved — researching what people are looking for online, creating the best version of that content, and then ensuring that it appears in search results is a process that requires many different skill sets.
Here’s where PR and corporate social responsibility (CSR) come in. Socially conscious audiences normally care enough about their chosen issues to seek them out online, and so the deluge of content on social media and in search engines has a less exhausting effect on them. When users are in an inquisitive and thoughtful headspace, if you provide them something of value, that goes a long way to creating an engaged follower and often, a customer.
Due to this interaction, reputation management and other functions of public relations can serve a double purpose as effective, targeted marketing strategies. The best thing about reputation is that generally, it creates buzz through word of mouth. If people recognize your company for doing good work, giving back, and treating people well, they’re likely to recommend it to their friends and family who have similar social priorities. A good reputation is the gift that keeps on giving, so if your PR efforts are limited to reducing potential damage and interacting with disgruntled customers, you could be missing a powerful opportunity to reach new, passionate audiences.
Seeking Permission, Inviting Engagement
TV ads, billboards, pop-ups, sidebar ads, and other methods that interrupt a user’s expected experience of the world are called interruption marketing. Unfortunately it’s the saturation of interruption marketing online that’s causing users to block and tune out advertisers en masse.
Permission marketing is the opposite, and it’s what we’re talking about here. Permission marketing is simply the idea that a user gives active consent to engage with you. It’s the core of inbound marketing: gives users something they value, then invite them to continue along the journey and start advertising once they’ve opted in.
For CSR, this means treating your good deeds a little bit like marketing campaigns. Create content on your website and social media accounts that highlight the work your company is doing for charities, the environment, or the local community. Use your marketing channels to amplify those causes without cynicism — without attaching information about your products or services. Genuinely interact with people who are interested in the work, and invite them to take part in community-building activities, even if they are as simple as conversations, raffles, or contributing user-produced content. Center the focus of the campaign on the cause, not your company, but always include your brand identity and ways for users to learn more about you if they choose.
Remember that contemporary audiences are tech-savvy and passionate. They are quick to recognize and pick apart thinly veiled marketing campaigns that chase social responsibility like a trend. It’s going to take commitment to causes the company truly cares about and genuine engagement from employees to create a good buzz.