Webinar Recap: Small Business, Big Engagement – Trends & Best Practices in Using Social Media to Tell the Small Business CSR Story

 For the July edition of our Best Practice Network Webinar Series, we spoke with Julie Dixon, Deputy Director of Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication, the only academic initiative that looks specifically at the role of communication in fostering community engagement. Julie focused on best communication practices and the importance of social media for small businesses trying to tell their CSR story.

Going for gold
We can’t all be world-class Olympic athletes, but small businesses are participating in a different kind of race. Imagine your business at the starting line with a series of hurdles ahead. To successfully reach your goal, you’ll have to leap over each hurdle. Just make sure to take it one step at a time!

Hurdle #1: To communicate or not to communicate?
A recent CSIC study found that only 30% of small businesses actively communicate externally about their CSR efforts. Many small businesses don’t want to brag, or make it seem as though they do good work purely for the publicity.

But small businesses have a responsibility to communicate with the larger community. By spreading the word about your CSR efforts, you can elevate your cause and encourage others to join in. If you’re anxious about sounding boastful, consider Julie’s three tips for authentic communication:

(1) Play up your partnerships with nonprofits, stakeholders and the larger community.
(2) Enlist partners as co-communicators and encourage them to publicize your efforts.
(3) Let others tell your story.

Hurdle #2: Balancing social media
Even once you’ve committed to communicating your impact, you may face staff, resources and time limitations. For small businesses facing these barriers, it’s important to streamline your social media to increase effective engagement.

Social media is among the best conduits for creating conversation, but not every channel fits every business’ needs. Think about your audience, your story and the type of content you hope to share before choosing your social media platforms.

Hurdle #3: Using social media effectively and quickly
A quick poll showed that most webinar attendees committed fewer than five hours per week to maintaining their company’s social media. So how do you maximize those hours?

(1) Align with authenticity. If you align with a nonprofit whose mission aligns with your own, communication will come naturally.

(2) Choose your platforms wisely. If it doesn’t make sense for your business to use certain platforms, don’t! Choose channels that you can maintain and whose communities are relevant to your audience.

(3) Tweak your content for each platform. For example, Twitter users expect to be taken away from the site, so including links is key for success. Facebook users, on the other hand, want to keep their experience entirely within the site.

(4) Stock your CSR content pantry. Make sure you have a range of content options ready to go. Some of these things take more work to prepare, have longer shelf lives, and appeal to different types of people — much like a kitchen pantry.

(5) Empower your audience. Encourage employees, customers and stakeholders to contribute content themselves, or highlight their impact on the company’s channels.

(6) Embrace experimentation. Small businesses have a lot of space for communication creativity, and it’s okay if it doesn’t work out perfectly. The risk of negative feedback is low, so don’t be afraid to show personality and have some fun!

Hurdle #4: Competing with the big guns
Major corporations boast millions of followers across many social media channels, and small businesses often wonder how to compete with those kinds of numbers. The short answer: don’t. What matters is where your company operates and the people you reach — not accumulating an arbitrary number of followers.

Learn more about the Center for Social Impact Communication or read their study on small business engagement. You can also follow Julie on Twitter at @jdldixon.

Watch the full webinar here.

Don’t miss our next Best Practice Network Webinar on August 15. Register for The Radically Engaged Business: A 2012 VolunteerMatch Client Summit Encore Presentation with Carol Cone today!

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