Companies exist by virtue of community consent. Opportunities for enhancing community relations through Web content.
It's said companies exist by virtue of the community's consent. Most companies know the importance of community relations, and many vigorously pursue social responsibility activities. What some have not recognized, however, are the opportunities for communicating and enhancing community relations efforts through Web content.
For example, Santa Ana, CA's Orange County Register is a large regional newspaper and clearly recognizes its position in the community. OCregister.com includes an ongoing calendar of the many community events the Register sponsors. The speakers bureau also has a page -- a nice touch that provides biographies and contact information for reporters and managers available for speaking engagements. It is easy to use and says, "We want to be part of Orange County."
Great, you say, but what about the organization that doesn't have a clearly defined geography for its community (this is the Worldwide Web)? Read on...
Leaders in Doing Good
Apple got it right over 25 years ago with its massive attempt to put its computers in classrooms nationwide. The education connection is still going strong, with Apple providing educator discounts, curriculum guides, newsletters, user groups, and awards to outstanding educators. Apple's education Web pages are extensive and include many online resources for teachers and school administrators. Several pages are devoted to computer users with special needs.
Similar to Apple's initiative, Intel's Innovating in Education provides resources for mathematics, science, and engineering teachers. This global program spans five continents, and the Web site is far more than self-congratulatory press releases. There's even a section on suggested lesson plans for elementary through high school teachers. It's an interesting site for educators and parents alike.
UPS's Web site reports on the company's community outreach, rather than providing actual online resources. Yet these UPS activities are clearly worth mentioning. In 2001, for example, UPS led sponsorship of a move to help revolutionize online news publishing for African-American newspapers nationwide. Working with the National Newspaper Publishers Association, UPS supported a massive initiative to develop customized Web sites for over 200 African-American newspapers.
Requesting users click for charity is another possibility. Corporations sponsor click-for-charity programs that help to clear land mines, save rain forests, feed hungry children, and contribute to cancer research. For its Bounce House campaign, Procter and Gamble donates to Habitat for Humanity every time a user submits a new idea for using Bounce dryer sheets.
For something a little different, SBC is holding an online auction for hand-painted basketballs autographed by Tim Duncan of the San Antonia Spurs. Proceeds benefit a San Antonio-based school for children with disabilities.
In case you missed it, yesterday was Earth Day. Starbucks didn't forget. Its Web site includes many pages on the company's commitment to the environment. The site also provides extensive information on using coffee grounds to make plants grow (although there's nothing to indicate if Italian Roast works better than Mocha Java).
How about your organization? Does your site make any mention of social-responsibility activities?
Your organization can start community outreach efforts in many ways. Countless possibilities exist -- just take a cue from other organizations, or advance an initiative in any number of areas: business ethics, community and economic development, arts and education, voluntarism, the environment, human rights. There are needs practically everywhere. Ensure your organization commits for the long term and the activity is truly performed in the spirit of giving (rein in the unbridled marketing).
For more ideas, consider your organization's true strengths. Ask employees how they would like to help. You'd be surprised how many people enjoy teaching (online or off-), counseling, or simply giving their time.
Besides a nice, warm feeling, there are additional rewards. Community outreach helps build brand loyalty, attract and retain employees, strengthen community support, appeal to most investors, and enhance your public image.
Of course, once you have your program in place, putting something about your activities on your Web site is nice. Just imagine: It's content that doesn't over-promise, hype, talk down to consumers, or knock the competition. That should be motivation enough.
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Susan Solomon is the executive director of marketing and public relations for Memorial Health Services, a five-hospital health system in Southern California. In this capacity, she manages promotional activities for both traditional and new media. Susan is also a marketing communications instructor at the University of California, Irvine; California State University, Fullerton; and the University of California, Los Angeles.
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