Back in my Boy Scout days, I did a service project where I had to ask local businesses to donate material toward the project. I was amazed at how many companies had budgetary allotments for these types of donations. Most stores just handed over the supplies. One paint store was slightly different. They asked me to write a thank you letter to the store owner describing the project as part of the arrangement, which I was more than happy to do.
You might say that it wasn’t really charitable giving if I was having to do something for it. I say it was fantastic company policy. It was unobtrusive and allowed the store to repurpose my "happy customer" feedback for promotional purposes or whatever they decided to do with it.
What does this have to do with SEO?
In my example, only one store had a policy about giving that enabled them to get at the same time. There are plenty of companies that give, sponsor, and otherwise contribute via donation of their products and services. You might be one of them. What are you doing with these opportunities?
You should be leveraging happy customers through your company policies. Here are a few ideas you could be implementing to help your SEO and online marketing:
*Request an online review from the recipient of donations. You’ll need to have company profiles set up on important review sites that contribute to your local rankings (Google Local, InsiderPages, CitySearch, etc.). You also need a convenient way for the customer to get to the review page. I recommend printing the URLs of 2-3 important review pages on a business card to hand out. You could combine that with a follow-up e-mail with links to the pages.
*If the recipient is a blogger, request a post describing the project, event, or whatever else the proceeds will be used for (along with a respectful request for a review and/or backlink).
When requesting reviews, make sure that the person reviews the actual product or service delivered rather than reviewing you for being a nice sponsor/donator. You’re going for complete objectivity in the review itself, but extreme subjectivity in who you target to write the review. Make sure you use a soft sale requesting reviews or blog posts. The wrong thing to do would be to hold a donation hostage in exchange for the review or link. That defeats the purpose and could easily turn into a firestorm.
There are other company policies you can leverage for SEO purposes as well. You can officially request that all news mentions of you link to your site for branding and attribution purposes. You obviously can’t force it, but you can request it. You can train your store employees to instinctively request online reviews from any obviously happy customers (especially when you’ve done something noble to help them and they know it).
Every company has different rules and policies that can be used to drive site traffic, increase link-building efforts, and self-promotion. It’s time you thought creatively about what you can get — while you’re giving.