MBAs tackle digital marketing for social good

Dec 15, 2011

Students in SFU’s Full-Time MBA program at the Beedie School of Business have garnered real-world marketing lessons that have taken them from social agencies in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside to a hospice society in Pitt Meadows to a seniors wellness centre in North Vancouver. In the process of helping these groups raise awareness or operating funds, they have enjoyed early-stage support from the likes of celebrated author Margaret Atwood and Vancouver hockey star Roberto Luongo.

The community interactions are part of the marketing class Business 702, taught by SFU marketing professor Leyland Pitt. Within the class, students are challenged to strategically design a social media marketing program for not-for-profit organizations in Metro Vancouver.

By working outside of the classroom with social agencies and community groups, the students have been able to broaden their perspective around business and society – and further integrate social entrepreneurship and sustainability into their marketing coursework.

A case in point is a group that worked with the Minerva Foundation for BC Women, which promotes community and workplace opportunities for women. The MBA students developed a successful “Leading by Tweeting” campaign – with the goal of raising awareness and support for the foundation via the microblogging medium of Twitter. They ultimately found online champions such as Patricia Graham (Editor, Vancouver Sun), Bridgitte Anderson (Vice-President, Edelman), and the aforementioned Margaret Atwood – and in the process guided executives at the foundation in the art of using Twitter and other social media channels. As MBA student Alice Longhurst noted, a retweet from Atwood helped put the organization’s message in front of over 280,000 Twitter users.

“As a business school, we believe that businesses can survive and indeed thrive by emphasizing sustainability and social responsibility,” said David Hannah, Academic Director of the SFU MBA program. “By involving our students in initiatives like this, we are preparing them to make this kind of impact.”

Another group of MBAs chose to support the Dugout, a local organization that provides daily meals and support services to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside community. The organization, which positions itself as the “community living room” for people in that neighbourhood, has roots going back to the 1960s.

MBA student Colin Stansfield said his group was compelled to help the organization given that it is one of the longest-standing venues for Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in Vancouver, and serves many clients who are either homeless or live in Single Room Occupancies.

To support the Dugout, the student group created a new website, along with Facebook and YouTube channels designed to enhance fundraising efforts. Along the way, they added some sporting sizzle to their campaign.

Upon discovering that the Dugout has long welcomed locals into the facility to enjoy Vancouver Canucks hockey games – since the NHL franchise’s inception in 1970 – student Alannah Cervenko took the organization’s story to some of today’s players, including Roberto Luongo, Sami Salo and Kevin Bieksa at an official team function. The response from the Canucks players was very positive – with all of the Canucks canvassed signing a commemorative playoff towel geared to support the Dugout campaign.

Left to right: Vancouver Canuck Roberto Luongo, MBA student Alannah Cervenko and Canuck Sami Salo

Other student projects delivered social media marketing campaigns for organizations as the Greater Vancouver Firefighters, Ridge Meadows Hospice Society, Downtown Eastside Kitchen Tables Project, the North Shore Keep Well Society, Maplewood Farms and We Canada.

“Throughout this project, these students displayed a remarkable ability to leverage the power of social media to help these organizations achieve their marketing goals more completely – and by extension make a real difference in the community,” said Professor Leyland Pitt.

Though the marketing class concludes this December, many of the MBA students will carry on with their efforts with the organizations into the New Year and beyond.

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