It’s easy to lose sight of those around us while living in the digital age. With companies replacing physical offices with email, video conferencing, and other virtual communication channels, face-to-face interactions are becoming less common. While we’re lucky that digital communication has streamlined our businesses, it’s no replacement for good old-fashioned human connection. Work environments risk losing the connectedness and “community feeling” that companies provided for their employees in earlier decades.
How can you build connections among your employees and community members? By building trust, giving back, and making a positive impact.
Build a Team with Socially Aware Individuals
Your community outreach goals start internally. Hire individuals who want to see both your business and your community thrive. They should be passionate, socially conscious employees who understand that a healthy community is the best way for your business to prosper.
Research the Needs of Your Community
Figure out what part of your community you want to serve. If you haven’t decided on a cause yet, get your employees, customers, and community involved. Ask your website’s visitors what causes they support or hold a poll on Facebook. Solicit ideas across platforms and choose one that works best for your company and its values.
If you’re not currently able to commit time and effort to your own community outreach program, join forces with another company. Or get involved and stay active in industry-wide philanthropic organizations.
Determine Your Charitable Goals
Make your philanthropic strategy as robust as your business’s marketing plan. Figure out what skills and offerings you bring to the table that can help others and fill the niche. Warby Parker is one example of a mainly virtual company that succeeds in community outreach. The direct-to-consumer company offers customers $95 eyeglasses made from the best materials and ships them to customers’ homes, allowing them to try the product before making a commitment. (It now offers a few stand-alone showrooms, but the majority of its business is conducted virtually.) Like many virtual business models, the company has had to put in extra effort to build its community presence. In 2012, it launched its “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” campaign in which a portion of its profits train people in developing countries to give eye exams and sell affordable glasses. More recently, the company launched a program in New York City and Baltimore that provides eye exams and glasses in schools to fulfill community outreach goals closer to home. Eyebuydirect is another online glasses store that is succeeding in community outreach with its powerful Virtual Try-On tool and charity programs like Buy 1 Give 1 that lets you donate prescription eyeglasses globally to the country of your choice.
Deliver Results and Seek Publicity
Use the same tools that make your for-profit customers successful when developing your philanthropic plan. Make use of the marketing tools available to you such as Facebook’s donation feature that can send money to nonprofits with just a few clicks. Utilize Google Grants for nonprofit organizations, and use charitable offers from Constant Contact and Hootsuite — both give substantial discounts to nonprofits using their tools.
Make sure people know about the good works you’re doing. Submit press releases about fundraisers, contests, and events to media outlets, and encourage anyone involved to blog about your work and use designated social media hashtags. Highlight your accomplishments in stakeholder reports and continue to foster an environment of social awareness.
It’s important for companies to have a community presence — even when they’re virtual. By taking the steps described here, you can help your company build a reputation in your community and make a positive impact.