Communicating CSR Initiatives: Engaging Through Social Media
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives are becoming more and more prevalent among businesses of all sizes, and much of it has to do with the fact that modern consumers are holding companies to a higher standard. Consumers really do vote with their wallets, and while a great product and a strong approach to customer service are foundational to success, people also want to support or collaborate with companies and brands that are aligned with their personal values.
For example, as consumers become increasingly concerned with the impact human activity has on our natural environment, sustainability is a consideration that most businesses can no longer afford to overlook. In fact, a recent global report by Nielsen included a poll revealing that 66% of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable goods. This particular consumer outlook has already had a significant impact on the ways in which businesses conduct R&D, build supply chains, manage natural resources, and of course, invest in CSR initiatives.
Interpreting CSR in a Contemporary Context
CSR is a form of customer focus – it communicates the fact that successful businesses are those that can shape their purpose around customer needs while also responding to broader societal needs. Consider this: a Reputation Institute report found that 42% of how people feel about a company is based on their perceptions of their CSR practices.
It’s more than just consumers, too. CSR initiatives can act as a bridge between a given company and the communities in which they do business; can attract potential employees who share a company’s values; and can even inspire engagement among current employees, effectively strengthening the teams behind the brand. CSR programs also help build valuable business and knowledge sharing partnerships, and of course, can enhance a company’s profitability. And let’s not forget the immediate goal of such endeavors: supporting a worthy cause, adopting behavioral changes, helping those in need, or using a company’s resources and expertise to make a difference.
Small- and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), like their bigger corporate counterparts, are engaging in CSR at relatively high rates, so much so that the European Commission has published a guidebook detailing CSR tips and tricks for SMEs. One of the topics brought up in the guidebook, which deserves further consideration, is communicating CSR initiatives. Traditionally, larger companies would release an annual report informing specific stakeholders about their CSR activities. For SMEs, budget or time constraints make this kind of reporting impossible. More importantly, as consumer and public interest in CSR initiatives grow, the need to communicate these efforts in a broader manner is also increasing. In terms of communicating both a company’s values and the ways in which it lives these values on a day-to-day basis, social media is both cost effective and provides unprecedented reach.
Communicating CSR Initiatives Through Social Media
Despite this seemingly simple solution, a gap still exists between engaging in CSR initiatives and communicating them to the general public. Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication put together an invaluable report on “trends and best practices in using social media to tell the small business CSR story.” Among the collection of insightful facts contained within the report is a survey revealing that only 30% of small businesses actively communicate about CSR initiatives externally (versus 59% of larger businesses). What’s more, the report also asserts that 73% of SMEs say that they do significantly more for their communities than is reflected in public awareness.
The stats seem counterintuitive but the reasoning behind them actually makes sense. Many SMEs forgo talking about their CSR engagements because they don’t want to look like they’re bragging about living-out their values, or exploiting their good deeds. In the end, it’s about doing what’s important to them, and not about telling others that they’re doing what’s important to them. Though this reasoning is clear, not sharing CSR initiatives with others also represents a wasted opportunity to promote a cause, a partnership, or a business practice that might prove valuable to others. Plus, given how more and more larger companies are holding their entire supply chains accountable to certain ethical or environmental standards, keeping quiet about CSR could mean doing a disservice to a company that would otherwise have distinct appeal to potential customers.
A tasteful approach to communicating CSR on social media can go a long way, both in supporting and growing a company’s chosen initiative, and in promoting a business or brand as one based on a core set of values and ethics. There are lots of great ideas about using social media as a platform to communicate CSR initiatives. Details aside, most can agree that subtlety goes a long way, and helps us avoid the all-too-common pitfall of coming off as boastful and self-serving.
Here are a few ideas worth considering:
Establish a partnership with an NGO or charity: Not only will a partnership of this type help you focus your time and resources in an efficient manner, you can also make their work the center of attention when it comes to communicating your part in it. Lots of larger corporations team up with the biggest names in international development, so SME’s should look to local or country chapters, as well as community and grassroots organizations. Options are endless and these partnerships can prove even more valuable down the road.
Encourage employees to represent the company and post about their experiences: Getting employees onboard for CSR initiatives is always a good idea, but getting them to participate directly and then recount their first-hand experience makes for a much more human approach to communicating a company’s approach to CSR. It could be anything from raising money for something like a marathon, or volunteering for a charitable cause; if they share their experience through social media, their employer can do the same. Not unlike working through a partnership, it’s about third-party credibility.
Use images, videos and live feeds to bring attention to a CSR initiative: Talk is cheap, and a picture is worth a thousand words (and is also pretty cost-effective). So instead of talking about what a company is doing or has done in the area of CSR, that company can use pictures and videos showing their work in action. The same goes for images like graphs and charts; they are straight to the point, easy to understand, and focus on the facts more than the company behind the given initiative.
Storytelling is key: No matter how evolved our modes of communication become, basic storytelling will never lose its value or go out of style. It’s a story that usually drives us to want to make a difference in the first place, so telling a company’s story and how a given CSR initiative came to be is both inspiring and engaging. Just make sure that the leading character is the initiative, and not the company.
As CSR continues to evolve and gain more prominence as a common business feature, so too will the way we communicate about it. Social media is so dynamic that it’s impossible to set rules in stone vis-à-vis the way we engage in it. Still, SMEs can derive tons of data pertaining to their social media presence, so reviewing this data and learning from it can help us better communicate with our target audiences. Either way, CSR is now much less about PR than it is about driving innovation and addressing collective challenges to make for a brighter future. There’s still a lot of work to be done but the momentum being built through countless CSR initiatives is certainly a big step in the right direction.
Content Manager at Brite