If there's one thing the web excels at, it's uniting people behind a cause. A number of successful marketers are using campaigns to create positive change within their industries, highlight their firms' moral integrity and generate a hell of a lot of good publicity.
Whether it's an international price comparison site campaigning against unfair bank charges or a local pub campaigning to protect a village green, bringing people together to put pressure on the authority has the power to create incredible buzz and excitement.
If you lose, then that buzz and excitement was still worth a lot to your company. If you win then that positive outcome is not only good in itself, it's generated a great deal of good will for your brand.
Here are a few tips for driving a successful campaign online. By picking the right cause and the right message, your firm can market itself through good deeds...
Pick an appropriate cause
If you want to do your business some good at the same time as effect change, you'll need to pick the right cause. If you sell hand soap, for example, there's no point campaigning to end debt in the developing world.
Oh, you'll get followers and advocates, you'll even be seen as an ethical firm, but you won't do your business any other good. The followers won't be interested in hand soap and the publicity won't mention your product.
No, if you're a hand soap manufacturer, then campaign for greater cleanliness at your local hospital, for the council to dedicate money to teaching kids the importance of hand hygiene, for an end to VAT on soaps.
Save business-irrelevant campaigns for your free time and champion an appropriate cause.
Choose a necessary campaign
Obviously there is little point campaigning for greater hygiene at your local hospital if cleanliness there is great.
Devote your efforts where they're needed, otherwise you won't win any support and your efforts will be wasted.
If you're on the ball in your industry, you must have a good idea what positive change is needed. If there isn't one then watch and wait – a good campaign will always do good for your brand and if it is topical that's even better.
Not all campaigns have to be national or even international in their scope. Local efforts can have a far bigger effect and even make success more likely.
If your business is a farm shop that also sells jams and preserves online, then locally championing the slow food movement could be far more effective for you than any amount of petitioning national supermarket brands to add food miles to their packaging.
People don't just like to campaign, they like to invite their friends and family to join them, they want to raise awareness for the message they believe in and encourage others to sign up.
So make your campaign visible on social networks. Create groups, make a button people can add to their profiles, urge them to invite their friends.
This will help others spread the campaign's message for you, cutting your marketing time and boosting the likelihood of success.
Walk the line
There is a delicate line you'll need to carefully walk with any brand-lead online campaign.
On the one hand, you want to raise brand awareness, on the other you want your campaign to succeed without looking like a cynical exercise in marketing.
I think the best way to do it is create a separate identity for your campaign and then associate it with your brand. Give the campaign its own separate page on your site, or maybe even its own website, but then on your brand's pages, invite people to 'Join our campaign against...'.
Once you've chosen an appropriate campaign, you can also conduct surveys to measure support, put out press releases and nominate your firm's spokespeople as experts on the issue. If your campaign is picked up on, you could even get national press attention for your employees.
Imagine if the Newbury bypass protests had been spearheaded by a local outdoor supplies store. That would have meant national publicity and catapulted their brand into the wider public eye.
Blog your efforts
Driving a campaign can be a considerable amount of work. Make sure your supporters and customers know how much work you are carrying out by blogging about it.
A blog is personable, it invites conversation, it's approachable. It's also a good way of documenting the trials and successes of your campaign, reiterating the connection to your brand (without laying it on too thickly!) and encouraging further support.
Solicit super support
Try to get so-called super advocates on board, people whose opinions are widely listened to. If you can win support of your sector's biggest bloggers, they will raise awareness of your work and could even become powerful advocates of your brand, and it's product or services.
Also, try and raise interest with the press, whether it's an industry magazine like The Grocer or a regional paper offering support for a local campaign.
Don't be cynical
If you've read this thinking 'what a cynical marketing ploy', then you've sort of missed the point.
The purpose of firm-lead campaigns is to create positive change at the same time as building followers and brand awareness.
Don't lose sight of the reason for your campaign and pick a cause you can get behind, something you believe in.
Otherwise, it will be cynical, people will notice and they will feel hurt, let down and even disgusted.