What do we mean and understand by the term “social good”? This is the first question brands must ask themselves before incorporating social good into their business model. It is not a homogenous and neatly defined entity. Rather, social good is an umbrella term that incorporates many business practices, effects and outcomes.
Because social good is a fluid and evolving concept, it is up to each startup to set their own definition of “social” and “good.” If you don’t have parameters for social good, you can’t thoughtfully incorporate it into your business model.
Google came up with a well known answer: “Don’t be evil.” No one can deny that there are genuinely non-evil (or good) aspects of Google: most services are free, the company strives to make page ranking democratic and Google is completely transparent about what content is sponsored or not. When Google does something deemed shady, the public holds them to accountable to the motto.
In companies with a clear sense of social good, social good-driven actions are unmistakable. For example, Tom’s “one for one” founding premise means that the company donates one pair of shoes for every pair of shoes customers buy. Deloitte is known for training its employees on volunteerism and nonprofit management–not just consulting skills for Fortune 500 companies. Dell ensures that none of the minerals it sources from the Democratic Republic of Congo are being used to fuel conflict in the war-ridden country.
The question of what is social good, is complicated. It has been over 2000 years since the first philosophers debated the notion, and we are still no closer to finding an agreed upon definition that fits all understanding and practices of it. So don’t put too much pressure on yourself to find the right, one and only answer. As a startup founder, you just have to land on a definition that speaks to you and your company’s culture and value proposition. If you care about access to healthcare, global warming and gender equality, come up with a definition of social good that encompasses all three, and build them into your daily operations.
Second, ask yourself why you are incorporating social good into your business model. What drives you to have a triple bottom line business model, rather than a solely revenue driven model? What are the benefits?
From a business sense standpoint, contemporary startups need social good intertwined within their business model because consumers expect it–today, it is a sign of integrity and good practice in organizations people trust. When this assumption is shown to be incorrect, consumers can quickly become apathetic to a brand and business.
The backlash against corporate involvement in the NSA’s PRISM program is a perfect example of what happens when organizations violate expectations of socially conscious behavior. The BP oil spill in the gulf of Mexico threw into question the hydrocarbon giant’s commitment to environmental safety and protection. Nestle still suffers considerable backlash, including ongoing consumer boycotts, due to the baby formula scandal first reported in 1974 . In each case, there was a disconnect between consumers assumptions of what trusted organization’s social and good practices should be and what in reality was happening.
On the other hand, making social good the sole focus of a startup can be risky. Great socially conscious enterprises fail when they focus too narrowly on their social goal and lose site of the business model. Sustainable revenue and social good need not be mutually exclusive.
However you incorporate good into your startup, make sure the agenda is realistic and relevant to your enterprise. Don’t think of social good as compensation for your business practices that might generate criticism. Instead, focus on making those practices conform to your definition of social good, and let your customers know that you have made that conscious decision. In the short term it should help you build up a loyal and trusting customer base and in the long run it will help you stake your claim in the ever increasingly conscious-consumer world.
This guest post was written by Lucy Bartlett, Marketing Manager at VigLink, a technology company helping publishers earn from the content they create and the commerce they drive.