Let’s grow the social economy. This was the message of a large and very successful meeting last week in Kingston.
At the meeting I spoke on the topic of social media marketing for social enterprises at the Social Enterprise Boost Initiative (SEBI) Summit in Kingston. SEBI is JN Foundation’s empowering program that supports the growth of social enterprise in Jamaica, with funding from USAID. JN Foundation defines social enterprises as “those organizations that are committed to the development and sustainability of the social and economic well-being of communities, groups and individuals.” Some of those social enterprises that come under the SEBI umbrella are the increasingly popular (and delicious) Deaf Can! Coffee; the Montego Bay Marine Park, working hard on the environmental front; Petals ‘n’ Roots, which offers a range of floral services in support of people with mental health challenges; and the Alpha Boys School, which taps into Jamaica’s rich musical heritage through its Alpha Wear clothing. These are just a few of the range of social enterprises across the island that SEBI supports.But of course, you’ve got to have a great product to sell – and you want to be an efficient business with a strong growth plan. You are not there just to be a “Mr. Nice Guy.” You must be hard-headed. How do you balance your “social” with your “enterprise”?

My presentation followed that of Mr. Jason Mendes, who had a PowerPoint that was actually very powerful. Mine looked painfully dull beside it! Jason  showed how big companies like Buick and Toyota pulled at the heartstrings with provocative, even quirky ads that had a social message. Much of what he said resonated with me, although he was at a different level altogether – that of international marketing for big brand names. Jason talked about making your audience “feel” something. I’m sure there is plenty of marketing jargon and clever stuff in books to describe this. But simply put, you know when you are feeling an emotion (or perhaps when you are not). And you know when you are making a person feel something. It’s just the way humans are. Anyway, Mr. Mendes summed all of this up in a Maya Angelou quote that flitted through my mind as soon as he touched on the subject:
So, how is social media any different? People may often turn to it for information (as I often do) – but also, for inspiration. In general, the Jamaican public does not turn to social media to look for product ads. Jamaican men and women want to connect, chat, argue…feel. So, as a social enterprise in particular, you want to tap into that feeling. How about a three-minute video that can make you laugh (or cry); a good quality photo that is really striking and that sends a message about your enterprise. Remember, social media is never about blasting out a message to all and sundry via a TV commercial or a newspaper ad. It is truly social. It is about people.
Now, by this I don’t mean that one should become personality-driven; in fact, any kind of enterprise that depends on and revolves around one personality is not really desirable at all. What you should get across, though, is that you are a team (introduce your team members individually on social media). You should explain that you care about the development of Jamaican society, whether it is through supporting vulnerable populations, improving education or promoting social justice. You should demonstrate that you espouse certain values, and make these crystal clear: respect, commitment, hard work, community spirit, and so on.It’s very important, dear social entrepreneurs, to post your Mission Statement and your Vision Statement on your Facebook page in the section that tells your potential customers what you are about. Moreover, you can pick out small elements of those statements and connect them to an activity and/or product that you are selling. Why is this T shirt important? Because it shares the message that we are committed to children’s welfare, for example. Or, in the case of the Jamaica Association for the Deaf (JAD), one is providing employment to a vulnerable group that often finds it hard to get work, to produce a real quality product (JAD makes beautiful binders and other stationery products and does book restoration). So… buy us!

And so, to sum it up – in the words of Dr. Angelou: Make your audience feel something. Make that all-important connection. You can tell people you have a terrific product until you are blue in the face. What you need to do above all, though, is to show that, if they buy into the values you embrace in your work, you can support them by buying one of your products.
I think this is common sense. And marketing through social media is just that. Go with your gut feeling, and gently, sweetly draw the customer towards buying something.
Go, social entrepreneurs! You are the future.

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