This week, we take a break from our data story guide to probe a recent Forbes article, “Can Marketing Your Social Impact Harm Your Social Impact?” Proving social impact might need to be done with care, but it isn’t ever a bad thing.
While ImpactFlo is primarily focused on nonprofit organizations, we believe in the power of social enterprises, the positive impact they can engender and the importance of transparency in their activities.
The article, written by a social impact consultant based out of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford, gives a brief account of the tribulations faced by a socially conscious shop in Cambodia that employs women with a background of abuse or who are HIV positive.
““We had an issue last year,” [the shop owner told Forbes], “where a staff member who was not HIV positive was accused of having HIV by a member of her community after she modeled for us. Even if someone chooses to share their experiences on their own, we don’t want to use that to sell products, as people might stigmatize all of our employees, many of whom want to move away from their pasts.”
This case highlights the importance of clarifying your organization’s or social enterprise’s purpose, building and adequately controlling your story. Miscommunications about an organization’s or business’ purpose and activities can engender misconceptions amongst the public which then endanger involved parties. Privacy protection is paramount, and explicit definition of purpose and history can actually guard against misconstruence.
The author writes that many social enterprises ask themselves, “Is it a waste of a competitive advantage to overlook this marketing opportunity and in effect gain more support for the employees?” But perhaps more need to be asking, “Can marketing the social impact end up harming the people we are trying to help?””
These are important questions to consider, especially in the social enterprise’s case, where they have a double bottom line to adhere to. Yet, the framework under which these questions are being asked is incorrect. If storytelling is done properly and effectively, these questions have implicit answers. Organizations and social enterprises should focus on a three pillar framework for PR.
Be definitive and clear about who is working for you, who you are helping, why they are being helped, and be explicit in disproving any stigmas or misconceptions associated with your work.
2. Personal Social Impact
This goes along with disproving stigmas and misconceptions relating to an organization’s work and the people they help. Personal stories, which create empathy and relatability, can soften rigid stereotypes and stringent social constructs.
Numbers reinforce the work you are doing by giving people a tangible understanding of your reach. As personal stories validate your activities by showing the distinct difference you make in people’s lives or on the environment, metrics highlight the scale on which you are operating. Both are important to proving social impact and giving people an understanding of the importance of your work.
Proving social impact is always worth it because it allows you to improve your work, expand your reach, and engage followers. Protecting the privacy of involved parties while constructing stories, your mission statement and, of course, as you’re engaging in work can be done if breaking the stigmas of poverty or illness are innate in that work and the stories surrounding it.