Research shows that more companies are beginning to recognize the importance of having a good corporate reputation. As one of the world’s most recognizable brands, Coca-Cola has long recognized the value and importance of corporate reputation and giving back to their consumers. With a CSR focus on women, water and well-being, in 2013 the company launched EKOCENTER – a mobile community kiosk ran by a local woman entrepreneur that provides safe water, solar power and Internet access.

Not only did I get to hear the story behind EKOCENTER when I attended the PRSA International Conference in Atlanta last month, but I also made it the focus of my final paper for my Public Relations Theory course at Newhouse.

In many ways, Coca-Cola’s EKOCENTER initiative, which is geared mostly towards developing nations, perfectly relates to my paper’s topic – Strategies for Effective Community Relations and Practicing Corporate Social Responsibility. Anyone who knows me well knows about my passion for community relations. Working on this paper gave me the opportunity to develop trends based on research and actionable steps for any organization who’s looking to use community relations as a way to improve their overall reputation.

Here are the three main trends I’ve found that make organizations successful at community relations:

  1. Personification storytelling – What always makes stories so appealing to us are the characters behind them. The same is true for organizations who want to communicate how their community relations efforts make an impact on the people they serve. In telling the story of EKOCENTER, Coca-Cola does a great job of strategically communicating the initiative’s value while capturing the moments of all the people behind the kiosks’ success through videos and photo blogs.
  2. Proper alignment with core focus – You would expect NFL teams to sponsor the Play60 initiative because athletes are great for promoting physically active lifestyles to kids. On the opposite end, Starbuck’s “Race Together” campaign fell short in part because it didn’t make business sense for a coffee shop company to encourage its customers to talk about matters of racial justice. The point is, it helps when companies do things for the community that relate back to their core purpose. Coca-Cola realizes this, as EKOCENTER uniquely ties back to each of its three main CSR focuses.
  3. Correlating positive CSR with profits – While it’s widely known that most companies do benefit from having a good corporate reputation, no company earns it overnight; whether good or bad. That’s why it’s important for organizations to establish a solid foundation for their CSR efforts so that in time it pays off in brand equity and an improved financial bottom line. While it remains to be seen if Coca-Cola’s EKOCENTERs have made a significant contribution to Coca-Cola’s profits, it does make sense for the company on a practical level to use the kiosks to sell their beverages.

If implemented effectively, positive community relations can lead to significant benefits for an organization, among them being improved brand equity which can lead to increased profits. Even without these motivations, it’s good for organizations to demonstrate care towards their community publics. While a positive relationship with publics is beneficial, having a negative or nonexistent relationship can also impact an organization just as much.

Lately there’s an emphasis on public relations professionals to know other communications disciplines such as advertising, marketing and journalism. We talked about the idea, otherwise known as integrated marketing communications, a few weeks ago in my PR Theory course at Newhouse, where the discussion began with this question: What is the difference between PR and IMC?

As I understand it, integrated marketing communications encompasses everything in the mix to help an organization sell itself, while PR largely focuses on building relationships with those who’re involved with the organization. So it’s no surprise that PR is part of the IMC mix as building relationships with stakeholders in turn helps you better sell your products and/or services to them.

As demonstrated in their latest advertising campaign, GE understands the need for communications to be integrated. In their recent string of commercials on TV, GE use advertising as a tool to educate stakeholders on what it is they actually do through the life of a young professional, named “Owen,” who deals with skepticism from family and friends when he tells them about his new job with GE as an industrial internet developer.

Without delving too much into the nature of the commercials, here’s why I think it works:

It personifies an era – The genius behind GE’s campaign is that the character Owen is a millennial entering a new profession in traditional corporate establishment. For GE to build interest in the next generation’s workforce to be excited about their opportunities, it makes sense to cast a character who speaks to their culture. Overall, GE ties a new and exciting field (technology development) with their staple offering (sustainability) in a way that merges generations.

It educates – With most campaigns in PR, the goal is to raise awareness for a cause or an issue. In GE’s case, they use commercials to indirectly enlighten their audience that they’re not just an industrial company anymore, and that the scope of what they do is much broader. Putting this message into their commercials not only allows GE to reach the millennials they’re trying to target to work for them, but also older generations who’ve known GE to be something else.

It’s funny – Humor can be a slippery slope when your message is meant to communicate something of value. Everyone’s sense of humor is different and what may be funny to one person may be offensive to another. GE makes the wise choice to go with subtle humor in each of its commercials for its campaign. Whether it’s the competition between Owen and his friend who’s also a developer, or his father who assumes he can’t pick up the hammer, it’s hard not to chuckle a bit when you’re forced to empathize with Owen’s struggles to get his point across.

As IMC becomes the new trend for companies to get their message across, you’re going to see more companies like GE utilize various mediums to get their PR campaigns across to their audience. Gone will be the days where advertising is strictly used to sell products and services, but rather used a starting point for an even greater brand conversation. After all, why else would a brand like Twitter, who doesn’t sell anything tangible other than advertising, take out a commercial like this?

If you’ve ever been responsible for managing a page on Facebook you’ve likely noticed how difficult it is to get your posts to reach your page’s fans lately.  That’s because Facebook’s algorithms have made it tough for marketers in the past few years to organically reach their audience.

Through my previous experiences and my current internship as the social media director for Student Startup Madness, it seems lately that in order for you to really be effective you’ll have to invest in paid ads.  Sure, $5 every now and then isn’t bad, but if you find yourself spending it daily the cost will really add up.

Luckily, putting money behind your content isn’t the only way to organically reach your audience.  Here are some things I’ve noticed in my own work that allow your Facebook posts to truly reach your fans organically.

Balance – If the saying is true that “marketing speaks to you, while advertising yells at you,” then some organizations’ pages are nothing more than a constant advertisement.  Doing this over time hinders your page’s reach to your audience and Facebook makes it harder for you to reach them when you’re simply selling to them.  Instead, balance your content by sharing outside information that might be related to what your page’s purpose is, but isn’t directly selling something either.

Originality – Facebook’s algorithms are smart enough to recognize when you’re simply stealing content from other sources.  However, too much unoriginal content can work against you and limit your reach to fans.  That’s why Facebook tends to reward content you “create” yourself, whether that’s homemade videos, pictures from your phone, or even memes you generated.  There’s a bevvy of other content creation sources such as Canva, FontStudio  and Font Candy, which allow you to make your materials as well.

Timing – Ensuring your content has balance and originality can only take you so far, but if they say “timing is everything,” then you need to know the best times to post in order to reach the most fans.  But how can you determine the best times to reach them?  This goes back to my posts about using social media analytics – in this case, Facebook Insights – to figure out what times your fans are most online and when you have the most (or maybe even least) traffic to get your message across.

I’d be remiss to tell you that there is an exact science to Facebook posts; because there isn’t (at least one that I know of).  Sure there are a number of “best practices,” and there’s nothing wrong with using them for your page. Ultimately though, posting on Facebook is a matter of initial trial and error, until you figure out what works best for you.  Only once you do that can you really develop a consistent rhythm – which ends up turning into your own best practices.