With just a few “likes” or check-ins from customers on Facebook, certain Lexington businesses are using purchases like coffee or ice cream to support charitable projects across the world.
Lexington-based Sojo Studios has created a new model of advertising that also allows business owners and their customers to make donations to various charitable organizations. Matt Sharp, sales representative and product developer at Sojo, calls the process “cause integration.” At participating businesses, donations are made to charities every time a customer interacts with the business on Facebook, either through a “like” or a check-in.
“It’s a system we created to help companies integrate cause into how we interact with customers,” Sharp said.
Sojo began in the fall of 2011 when the company launched WeTopia, a Facebook-based game similar to Farmville according to John Rougeux, Sojo’s chief operating officer. Like the new model, money that came in through the game was earmarked for charities.
While the charities are benefiting through increased donations, the businesses also benefit from the Facebook activity. Each “like” or check-in can be seen by hundreds of people, allowing businesses to reach potential customers not targeted by traditional advertising campaigns.
The system has been implemented at coffee shops like North Lime Coffee and Donuts, Third Street Stuff, Coffee Times, Purdy’s Coffee in Richmond and CrossFit gyms, owned by Sharp and Sojo founder Lincoln Brown. In all, there are 28 Sojo customers in the Lexington area.
Participating companies can chose a flat fee for each Facebook “like” or check-in that is billed monthly by Sojo, itself a for-profit business, through software tied into the client’s Facebook pages.
Since launching WeTopia, Sojo has donated more than $600,000 to charities around the world, Rougeux said.
The help with social media is worth the small flat rates invoiced to businesses, according to Sojo’s staff.
“If one of your friends recommends a business, you’re much more likely to use a business,” Sharp said.
Cause integration is the overall mission of Sojo, Sharp said. The studio also has offices in Los Angeles and will be using the program with customers in California, as well. Sharp said the company will likely expand the service beyond the two locations after the system undergoes a testing period.
“We’re trying to help small businesses market more effectively,” Sharp said.
Other Lexington-area customers include Chick-fil-a Hamburg, Lexington Athletic Club, Lexington Legends, BD’s Mongolian Grill, Cold Stone Creamery and Caramanda’s Bake Shoppe.
More than half of the money that comes into Sojo from these businesses, Rougeux said, goes back out to charities.
Some participating businesses have tablets set up so customers can track the donations being made and how the charities are benefitting, such as a count of how many trees have been planted thanks to Facebook check-ins. Businesses can choose from three different categories — children, the environment and heroes — depending on the causes they wish to support.
The participating business picks the category when they start with Sojo, and each month a new charity that fits that category is chosen and tablets are updated to show customers the new beneficiary.
Sharp said Sojo employees began working on the concept last November and implementing it in January, with just one business. Slowly, more businesses came on board, and today, including Lexington and Los Angeles customers, there are 60 participants.
“The goal is to kind of prove it [the concept] in Lexington and expand it from there. We’d rather work closely with these businesses and work it out before we expand it,” Sharp said.
Sojo also plans to launch an app that
will allow customers to make charitable donations through all purchases, even at businesses that are not Sojo customers. Sharp said developers are still working on the project and there is no timeline for the app’s launch.
“We’re developing other social media platforms as well, but we’re proving the concept on Facebook because that’s where the most people are,” Sharp said.