Social media is a valuable tool for co-ops when it comes to sharing news of their social impact, delegates at the Co-operative Retail Conference were told.
Shaherazad Umbreen, head of customer and marketing at Central England Co-operative, gave a presentation on how the society measures its investments in local communities. Over the past year, it has tried to do this in way that is meaningful both to the co-op and the communities where it trades.
Ms Umbreen said the society developed its latest marketing campaign under the hashtag #beingcoopy. The initiative started from a belief that co-ops can achieve greater commercial success by focusing on their social goals in targeted way.
One aspect of this approach has been measuring the Social Return on Investment (SROI), an addition to traditional financial reporting. SROI is a method for identifying and assessing the impact of a particular service or activity. For Central England, the objective was to show the cost of what would happen if it did not exist, she said.
The society used SROI to measure educational events, healthy eating advice, member classes, defibrillator investment, remembrance events, digital skills classes, homeless kitchens, retired employee networking events, food bank initiatives, community wellbeing events, mental health first aid activities and member dividend.
Following independent SROI study on community activity, Central England Co-operative found that every £1 invested in the community resulted in £23 of social value being created, said Ms Umbreen.
But she warned delegates not to take emotional considerations out of decision-making.
“Projects with the highest return ratios are not the only ones worth investing in,” she said. She gave the example of the employability classes run by Central England in various schools, including schools for children with special educational needs.
Although fewer pupils may end up in meaningful employment when leaving these schools, there is still a great need for investment because without it, employability chances are drastically reduced. Skills training at Central England leaves these students much better placed to gain employment, said Ms Umbreen.
As a result of this engagement, parents started sharing their children’s experiences with the society on social media – effectively doing its marketing.
Similarly, during Christmas the society brought 280 winter coats to give to homeless people via charities in the Midlands area and helped to raise 60,000 items for food banks. As part of the approach, store managers gave colleagues and customers more confidence to engage on social media.
The good deeds were promoted using the campaign #beingcoopy, a hashtag initially used on social media by Central England Co-op president, Elaine Dean.
Centred around the idea of reciprocity between customers and the co-op, the #beingcoopy campaign became the society’s most successful to date. It achieved editorial coverage worth £1.7m, and reached eight million people overall.