Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), also referred to as Corporate Citizenship, is gaining lots of buzz. Doing well by doing good has become increasingly important, prompting more and more companies to want to make CSR a priority.
CSR has been defined by Lord Holme and Richard Watts in the World Business Council for Sustainable Development's publication "Making Good Business Sense" as "…the continuing commitment by business to behave ethically and contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as the local community and society at large."
Today’s active and engaged consumers recognize that businesses often have as much impact on their communities and quality of life as government.
With this recognition comes the expectation that businesses will work to improve communities beyond the product they create and the company’s bottom line.
The expectation of long-term commitments to CSR is even higher with Millennials. According to Business News Daily, the next generation of employees are seeking employers that are focused on the triple bottom line: people, planet and revenue.
CSR programs range from environmental sustainability, to charitable giving, to commitments to provide diversity, to improving the overall economic health of a community, to job creation, to improving the lives of their employees through benefits programs, to volunteerism.
The list could go on forever as many companies tailor their CSR programs to fit their individual missions, their employees, and the communities in which they are located.
According to the UN Global Compact, “For business, environmental, social and governance responsibilities are no longer add-ons. They are integral to success…There is a strong upward growth curve in actively engaged companies.”
While implementation of strategic CSR programs has risen across all industries, consumer awareness of these projects has not risen.
In fact recent negative stories from companies like Uber, Wells Fargo, and drug company Mylan (EpiPens), have helped to erode the overall consumer trust in businesses.
In 2016, approximately half of the general public trusted businesses.
This gap in CSR communication has created space for many disrupter companies who consider profit and social-environmental benefit to be entwined and make communicating that belief part of their DNA.
TOMS was one of the companies on the leading edge of this start-up/disrupter trend. Their mission is One for One. With every product you purchase, TOMS will help a person in need.
These new companies have so seamlessly incorporated their CSR into their communications that many established companies are left playing catch-up.
Edelman, a leading global communications marketing firm, publishes an annual study called the Trust Barometer.
They have measured consumer sentiments on trust for over 15 years. The results in the 2016 Trust Barometer shows a new reality of influence.
Many companies have relied on annual reports, company websites or blogs and internal communications to share their corporate social responsibility programs. But that method is no longer enough. In what Edelman calls the Inversion of Influence, employees and peers are more credible than company leaders,
Yet, employers are falling short in gaining trust in their employees. Over 1/3 of employees have a lack of trust in their employers to do what is right in society.
The new reality of influence shows that corporate leadership must rely on employees to be their advocates and they must engage directly with consumers. The report goes on to show that employee advocacy increases when companies are engaged with societal issues .
Employees who work at companies involved in addressing broader societal issues vs, those who do not are far more likely to:
- Do the best possible job for the customer
- Recommend products and services to others
- Be committed to achieving company strategy
- Stay working for the company
- Recommend the company as an employer
In order to gain this advocacy, companies must promote their societal involvement and the impact of their business on the community.
Companies also must communicate externally cross-channel where their employees and communities are already spending their time instead of expecting people to come to them to learn more.
Edelman specifically cites the effectiveness of peer-driven media such as online search and social media. Broadcast Television is the only traditional media platform that reaches these audiences as effectively.
In addition to helping companies understand how and where they should communicate, Edelman goes on to show what types of messages they should communicate. Consumers feel that companies do not communicate enough about their positive long-term impacts or jobs that they create.
Susan Cooney at Change Catalyst a company who has won awards for recognition of their community impact says "Undertaking socially responsible initiatives is truly a win-win situation. Not only will your company appeal to socially conscious consumers and employees, but you'll also make a real difference in the world. Keep in mind that in CSR, transparency and honesty about what you're doing are paramount to earning the public's trust If decisions [about social responsibility] are made behind closed doors, people will wonder if there are strings attached. Engage your employees [and consumers] in giving back. Let them feel like they have a voice."