Today, nearly everyone uses social media to address or engage with companies around social and environmental issues. Consumers are making an effort to learn proactively about the way a company engages with the world before they decide to support it.
That’s not all. 79% of today’s graduates consider a company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) commitments when deciding where to work, according to a Cone Communications study.
Once they arrive on the job, they want to be involved in doing good from the start. Businesses know that investing in good is crucial to attract and retain top talent, and most business leaders expect this trend to increase. Brands of all shapes and sizes are embedding CSR into their operations, aligning business with purpose.
Mark Shamley, CEO of the Association of Corporate Contributions Professionals (ACCP), highlighted the growing role of CSR as an integral part of business: “I expect that CSR will become even more entrenched throughout companies. Rather than having CSR sit off to the side, more and more companies are weaving CSR into their operations.”
As sustainability and marketing become more entwined, marketers are tasked with maximizing the value of CSR initiatives through effective communications. Here are some ways Marketing can get involved in amplifying the good your brand is doing…
Pick Your Cause
People want the ability to make a difference in the causes closest to their hearts. Having a single company wide cause does not meet the needs and preferences of all employees. Giving employees the opportunity to choose makes all the difference.
JetBlue decided to honor their crewmembers’ commitment to giving back by launching Community Connection – a crewmember volunteer program designed to align corporate giving with individual crewmember passions. To date, JetBlue crewmembers have volunteered over 400,000 hours of service, resulting in more than $1.5 million of in-kind donations impacting their local communities.
Know (and Use) Your Skill Set
Nielsen’s Wendy Salomon, VP, Reputation & Public Affairs sees an increase in companies moving from old-school philanthropy to “skillanthropy” or skills-based contributions. Examples include a consumer packaged goods company addressing access to healthy food, a bank educating vulnerable populations on financial literacy, or a shipping company getting supplies to storm-battled regions.
“There is a particular “stickiness” when skill-based programs are part of a CSR portfolio, as they allow the company to shine a light on the good it does in the world and the expertise it brings to the marketplace day in and day out,” said Salomon.
PositiveNRG, NRG Energy’s Philanthropy Program, shows the benefits of skills-based philanthropy. In their work with FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a robotics and STEM education program. NRG employees use their real-world expertise to mentor FIRST teams. This multi-faceted approach to giving-back brings everyone together as valuable contributors and allows NRG to make more significant advances for those they serve.
Create a Home Base
Your website is the home base — a platform that allows you to build awareness and support your overall brand message. Design a dedicated web page to share your mission and give clear criteria for support of your CSR program. List your focus, giving program(s), and how your audience can get involved.
Think of your dedicated CSR web page as the face of your giving program, consumers should be able to reference and navigate it easily. Aside from sharing the link to your dedicated web page on your social media accounts you can also share it in marketing collateral, press releases and more.
Then, expand beyond your home base! See what your audience is sharing and commenting on as well as where they are finding your content. You might find certain channels to be more effective in reaching your audience than others, or you may find a whole new market/audience by trying a previously untapped medium.
Volunteer on the Clock
If you give employees the opportunity to volunteer during work hours, you show that you respect their time and are willing to invest in doing good in the communities your company serves.
Quicken Loans gives all of their team members eight hours of paid volunteer time each year which they can use to explore non-profits in their cities and find ways to make a difference in the community. This commitment to CSR pays dividends for Quicken, where over half of the lender’s employees are millennials. Fortune named Quicken on its list of 100 best places to work for Millennials and 98 percentof young employees say “I feel good about the ways we contribute to the community.”
Bring “Behind the Scenes” to the Fore
With our smartphones always in hand it is easy to gather pictures and videos on the spot. Use these to give followers a behind the scenes look into your CSR programs. You can also use a videographer for more in-depth videos. Make it easy to view and share your photos, quotes, and videos by providing links.
Making it as easy as possible for people to share your content, allows for maximum visibility (more eyeballs!) on your posts. Repurposing your content for posting on a variety of platforms such as Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter is also key to spreading your message. Numbers don’t lie, collect and utilize data to formulate impact reports of your programs to share online as well.
Lend Your Brand Voice to Employees
Help employees share on their personal social media accounts and offer incentives for spreading the word. Chance are employees already have a large network on their social media accounts interested in learning more.
A study by Deloitte showed that 96% of employees who volunteer report that the corporate culture at where they work is somewhat positive or very positive. This is a win-win, happy employees and happy consumers. Employees take pride in their company’s efforts to make an impact on society, and consumers can relate to stories about employees getting involved and not just dollars spent.
Put It on Paper — uh, Blog
Blogging is the bread and butter of digital storytelling. People connect with brands when they feel like they are part of a story. Keep your audience posted with blog posts throughout your CSR program. The truth is you do not have to be an amazing writer to get started with blogging, if you can share something that will resonate with consumers emotionally then they are more likely to discuss or share the content. You can use the pictures, quotes and videos you collected to supplement your articles as well.
If you’re not sure how your program stacks up, ask! Survey employees to get feedback on what they like and don’t like about the way your programs are run now. Find out what you can do to get them more engaged. Be prepared to adapt as you go because even with the best plan in place your programs will continually evolve, just as the needs of your business and community change. When you really meet the needs of your employees and the community at large, you’ll reap significant benefits.
Maximize the Value of Your CSR Initiatives (Q&A with Jennifer Risi)
Jennifer Risi is a seasoned communications executive with more than 15 years of experience. She oversees global media relations at Ogilvy and serves as senior advisor to many of the firm’s clients. She is an expert in nation branding, CEO positioning, crisis communications, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and business-to-business strategy development. She is a worldwide board member of Ogilvy Public Relations.
Risi was a key architect for UN Women’s iconic HeforShe campaign with Emma Watson – creating a historic, movement encouraging gender equality. Risi also is senior advisor to Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women.
We asked her some questions that help marketers and companies understand CSR and use it to build better, deeper relationships with their stakeholders.
Why should companies invest in CSR?
Jennifer: Because doing good is good business. Done right, properly designed and implemented CSR programs correlate to stronger growth and profitability.
What brand and marketing value can CSR and Sustainability Initiatives bring?
Jennifer: Customers, especially millennials, are attracted to brands with strong values – brands that stand for something. CSR brings these values to life and makes sure a brand’s positioning is more than just talk. We also live in an age of hyper-transparency, driven by easier sharing of content on social media. So companies following unsustainable businesses practices are under more scrutiny than ever, and can very quickly find their reputation and profits damaged if they do not take CSR seriously.
What advice do you have for brand marketers who are trying to make CSR or sustainability an essential part of the business?
Jennifer: It is not enough for brands to have a CSR department anymore. In order for a brand to be successful, it must have CSR integrated into its core business goals and values. This must be led from the top, and should be a key focus for management and the C-suite.
What are the unexpected benefits or outcomes that you have seen for companies that have implemented CSR Programs successfully?
Jennifer: CSR programs do not just benefit a company’s external image, they often form powerful employee engagement platforms, as people want to work for companies that play a positive role in the world. Programs around sustainability can also have long-term cost savings, despite the initial investment involved.
What are some of your favorite CSR brands and what makes their programs so effective?
- REI’s #OptOutside campaign won big among brand loyalists, and even branding experts at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. The company’s #OptOutside won the Grand Prix prize in the festival’s final Titanium Lions category for the campaign which hinged on the retailer’s decision to close all locations on Black Friday and pay all employees so they can spend time with family outside. The feel-good decision not only made its employees happy but sparked a movement to abandon the Black Friday tradition and to disconnect.
- Estee Lauder is another company implementing a unique CSR approach by doubling down on corporate giving. The company is leading the way in providing consumers with options to buy products in which proceeds go to causes such as AIDS research and breast cancer research.
What is the most important way companies should measure success and how does that lead to value in the business?
Jennifer: There is no one-size-fits all model for measuring the success of a CSR program, but you should always start with your objectives. From there, you can track various data points to see how/if you are meeting them. Start with the basics, what are you putting in? Track hours, dollars spent, and the conversation generated. etc. Then look at the behavior or attitudinal change you wanted based on objectives. E.g. Greater sales, brand perception, or employee retention. Only after this can you start to assess the ROI of your program.
How can companies truly differentiate themselves in how they communicate their CSR initiatives and results?
Jennifer: While most companies have CSR initiatives, the details and results are often only disclosed in annual corporate reports. These companies are missing out on the rewards that earned media can bring to amplify their CSR efforts. The key is for brands to devise an earned media strategy at the beginning of the program planning. Today, every media campaign today should focus on a strategic mix of traditional media, social media engagements and content (video, infographics) to drive, decisions and desired outcomes. Earned media will not only help tell your brand’s story, it will also lend it credibility.
What tips can you share with companies who would like to increase the impact of their CSR programs?
- Public-Private Partnerships: Align your brand and cause with a reputable public sector organization that fits with your values.
- Influencer Engagement: Find credible third-party thought leaders who can support your cause.
- Employee Engagement: Engage employees in the c-suite and beyond.
- Paid/Owned Channels: Create and distribute content on owned, paid and social channels to tell your story in your own words.
- Earned Media: This is the key channel of influence to increase the impact of CSR. Earned media increases word of mouth – the highest converter of action.
Where do you see CSR going? What is going to be important 3 years from now?
Jennifer: The battle in the coming years for company’s CSR will be around authenticity. Most brands know they should be doing something, but if you cannot convince your customers you are truly committed to the cause and it is no more than just ‘window-dressing’, it will fail. Given the number of CSR programs out there competing for share-of-voice and recognition, only the most credible will cut-through.
Over to You
There’s a difference between paying lip service to corporate citizenship and really walking the walk. Customers and employees alike catch on quickly when efforts aren’t authentic or geared to their needs. How are you embracing CSR in ways that are empowering and personalized to your team?