Corporate social responsibility can be tricky - if you are a blue chip corpo then your CSR motives are profit based, and if you are a small to medium sized business then your CSR efforts are probably not big enough to gain recognition.
So what do you do and how do you get word out about your corporate social responsibility efforts?
Difficulty of CSR
To brag or not to brag, that is the question many companies seek to answer about their corporate social responsibility efforts. It’s a common question, often with a variety of answers but no certain conclusions.
CSR has mostly been used by large corporations to show that they are thinking of the little guy, helping the world to be a better place. In a lot of cases, sharing CSR initiative updates can go the wrong way resulting in company stakeholders, be it management or customers, often not seeing the value in the efforts or not being able to understand it.
The default thought-process, from an external view, is that there must be something wrong - if there are facts and figures which are questionable to the stakeholder then they will question the entire initiative.
Customer = Is this a profit scheme?
Management = Is this even worth doing?
When sharing CSR initiatives there are some issues that need to be addressed ahead of time. Below are examples of 2 CSR focused fallacies that companies fall into the trap of time and time again.
Self Promoters' Paradox
The first one is called the ‘self‑promoters paradox’. I will hazard a guess that there have been press releases which you have created and sent out citing the wonderful new, flashy product/feature/service you have introduced for it to fall on deaf ears which makes sense - it’s a sly sales pitch.
But it gets even more stressful when a good-deed such as your latest CSR initiative goes unnoticed. You did all the right things - helped people or fixed a social issue in a designated area. But no-one is bothered.
This is a common problem and something that managers (not to pin the blame but it’s true) tend to be guilty of by using too many sales orientated keywords that takes the focus away from the ‘why’ and generally focuses in on the ROI. This partially answers the 'why' but only to the stakeholders who have a vested interest in your company.
Generally, it’s far better to be subtle with the messaging and sharing of CSR initiatives that has taken place than going for a full-scale media blitz, so for example working with an industry publication to share the news will resonate far more than blasting to mainstream newspaper companies.
Management Knows Best
The second phenomenon is one we are all familiar with: management knows best. They know the exact communications that need to be shared with stakeholders...
In reality, the stakeholders that management wants to please the most are the shareholders; which from a language and tone perspective are completely different to consumers and brand advocates.
But - for lack of a better sentence - they tend to be self‑seduced and self‑absorbed. Management likes to publish news and information that they are proud of and feel that is important, however, most of the information shared is focusing on the ROI or at least trying to justify the cause.
So after all of that, how do you effectively communicate CSR efforts without sounding like a company who is bragging about all of the good that they are doing?
The effectiveness of CSR communication depends on many factors, the most vital of all:
- The motives behind the initiative.
- Is the initiative relevant? Is it actually helping society or the environment?
- Is the initiative related with the company and what it does?
- Reactive vs Proactive timing of the messaging.
Stakeholder awareness, the people who are invested in terms of product purchases or shareholdings, of your initiatives is vital but it needs to be inline with the list above to ensure you don’t over communicate information that no-one cares about.
Which now leads me to some actionable CSR communication strategies to test out.
Communication Strategies for CSR Initiatives
There are three main factors influencing CSR communication strategies:
1. Reach – How well known the company is nationally and the economic influence that it has both politically and socially.
2. Size – differences between small, medium, and large companies
3. Origin of the Behaviour:
- CSR is real only if it changes how the organisation operates.
- Interactive communication with the investors.
- A need for true corporate commitment.
- Combining maximum social benefits + gains for the company through adequate corporate strategy.
In most cases a company looking to communicate their CSR efforts will have multiple stakeholders who will all have varied expectations of the information you communicate.
To combat the complexity of varied requirements I will refer to this Danish Study on ‘The Catch-22 of CSR’ where the authors introduced three main processes of communication: expert, endorsed and inside-out.
Expert communication generally involves people who have a vested interest in the company in one way or another. This can include:
- Organisation’s members
- Critical Shareholders
- Local Authorities
CSR news will be spread to these stakeholders via:
- Company website
- Internal newsletters
It’s evident that these stakeholders will need a clear selection of facts and figures minus the fluff to ensure the right message is delivered.
With this group of stakeholders there is little need to try and create marketing content around it, whilst it may seem appealing to share the reach of the initiative it’s better to just get the raw facts and figures in place and clearly labeled out.
Endorsed media is directed at and involves company employees and the media, in some cases the employee is acting as the middleman between company and media too.
For the general public and customers, companies should use the endorsed communication process using simple language and with a specific focus on an emotional message. ☝️
By combining the initiative with an employee’s statement you increase the likelihood that the public and media will be open to your news.
As I mentioned in the endorsed communication option, the most credible and effective way of communicating CSR efforts is to involve employees and have them committed to the initiative too. Employees like to be far more ingrained with the company, more so than simply producing reports and discussing the results.
Consider the organic social reach of embedded your employees into the CSR initiative. They are likely to have 100+ followers/connections/friends, these social media connections will likely increase the chances of organic sharing, commenting and general awareness of the campaigns. (For some additional reading check out this article on social media press releases and why you need to use them).
Normally when I see my friends doing something charitable, I tend to comment, share and congratulate for their efforts - this is natural, word of mouth organic sharing - nothing is better than that.
So after all of that, how do you effectively get your message out about CSR? We know how people absorb this information but how do we make the message truly resonate with the right stakeholders?
How to Get Word Out about CSR
American sociologist Mark Granovetter claimed that all economic actions are influenced by social relations that companies have with others.
As much as I’ve written about the who and the why, it’s all pretty much useless unless there is a ‘how’ to it all. The idea for this article is to help make the process easier, you don’t waste time sharing your CSR initiative.
Consider the potential effectiveness of the inside-out communication strategy. You have employee’s sharing, organically, with their network. This generates organic interactions which can be a simple comment or a share of the update - all of this is being communicated to additional networks thanks to your employee. Sounds viral to me, no?
By adding embedded versions, not screen-shots but interactive, social media updates you create evergreen content. This means that when you send out your press release and then archive it in your online newsroom for future reference, stakeholders will be able to comment, share and interact with these embedded updates.
There is a whiff of ‘virality’ about this but it’s the genuine employee focused sharing of the CSR initiative that makes it so effective.
Video is in favour right now with all social media platforms and it’s the most popular way of digesting information. Usually these videos can be short, 30-seconds is generally the key number you need to aim for, but they can be used as the pre-video to gauge interest.
If you combine an ‘intro’ video, that provides your CSR initiatives story in a digestible way to peak curiosity, with a full length ‘documentary’ you then have the appeal to all ranges of people. You provide additional marketing collateral - short vs long video argument is rendered pointless with these choices - and you make it very, very easy to share your story online.
A great example of video CSR is Lego's World Record for the largest Lego Wind Turbine to celebrate the company achieving 100% renewable energy capacity.
Add videos to Youtube, Vimeo or any other platform so that naturally curious people have the chance to find the video via dedicated keywords at a later date.
To really promote the message or tone of what your CSR goals are and what you have achieved, going visual is vital. Especially for the stakeholders that are purchasing your product and are either going to shout about you or not - imagery speaks a thousand words as they say.
However, sending images to the media is difficult because:
- External link to folders and documents = Nope
- Attachments to the email = Nope
- Email size too big = Nope
For a journalist going through your social media profiles or blogs to find relevant imagery is not at the top of the list, you need to do the legwork and provide all of the above in a central location, with minimal interactions to gain access.
Which brings me to the next point.
Online Newsroom & SEO
You shouldn’t have to rely on the media picking up your CSR story, you shouldn’t have to use your company blog to share CSR efforts. But how will it be possible to reference back to your previous CSR news?
Online newsrooms are a vital tool for companies who share a lot of press releases. They provide the capability to contain all media within the same location, plus provide additional contact information of key stakeholders of the story. (Find a press release example for inspiration).
As mentioned above - videos, images and social embeds take up a lot of room and requires a lot of additional content which emails cannot provide. Storing all of the press releases provides a go-to reference source with the added benefits of organic search rankings.
When you partner up with another brand or individual it’s usually to help build trust and engagement with another set of potential stakeholders. The information you produce and share is also deemed far more credible as it’s another perspective being added to the mix.
The network effect of ‘virality’ of this method of getting word out can be huge, with a runaway train of success ahead but again this requires a couple of considerations:
- What is the connection with the influencer? Is it a strong tie or weak tie? Is it believable and in tune with the company?
- Do you have a media centre or online newsroom that your influencer partners can direct people to?
If you have strong ties which are inline with your business then you are good-to-go. Do you have somewhere other than the blog to send stakeholders to? If yes, then you are also good-to-go with spreading the word.
So there it is
Successful CSR is tricky, it can take years and repeated attempts to win over stakeholders with initiatives before anyone takes note or considers it something more than a profit brag. But you can certainly make it easier for yourself when sharing your story with the media by following the tips above.
So remember: Provide lots of visuals and media that prove your motives, make it easy to access all of the information and visuals, share with relevant industry media and avoid going full-scale with promotion.