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April 2, 2018

The 5 Must-Haves of Corporate Social Responsibility


It’s been said that if you don’t toot your own horn, then you can’t complain when there’s no music. A bit blunt perhaps, but very true, and applicable today more than ever in the context of corporate social responsibility (CSR).

On the surface, CSR is comprised of the efforts and initiatives a company takes to assess and hold responsibility for its impact on the environment and social wellbeing at large.

It is important that CSR activities are presented as integrated into the company’s business to demonstrate that profit is not pursued without consideration for society. That is why in its most effective form, CSR manifests as corporate self-regulation tied-in directly to the company’s business model – a critical thread woven into the organization’s cultural fabric.

Still, the best laid CSR programs can fall short when not paired with strategic communications efforts to ensure internal and external stakeholders have a clear pictureCorporate-Social-Repsonsibility-Communications of what the company is doing and why. This calls for well-planned campaigns that build relationships and demonstrate a company’s commitment in an authentic manner.

A sound CSR communication plan can help to simultaneously increase shareholder value, boost employee engagement and increase employer brand recognition.

The Foundational Five

The best place to start is with the five foundational elements of CSR communications, all aimed at establishing credibility so that stakeholders are highly receptive to the messages you are communicating about the company’s initiatives.

1. Walk the Walk

Communication efforts are only as strong as the program on which those efforts are reporting. That is why alignment between all departments involved in a company’s CSR program is crucial so that you can ensure that actions agree with the messages. If the company has sound CSR practices, they can be easily communicated. Alternatively, you can’t communicate what is not there. 

2. Sincere, Transparent Messaging

When developing CSR messages, research has shown that the most effective approach is taking a fact-forward, moderate tone that isn’t too self-congratulatory or promotional to avoid stakeholders attributing self-serving motives to the company’s intentions for its CSR.

Be honest and balanced in your communications, not just sharing the good news stories, but also noting the failures from which lessons have been learned. Respond to what your stakeholders are asking for; if you communicate what people are interested in, you build credibility. 

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3. Stick to the Basics

Depending on the depth of a company’s CSR program, there may be a variety of stories to tell and complexities to share; however, there are three key elements that stakeholders tend to seek the most, so make sure these are incorporated into the core campaign messages:

  • Which social cause the company supports and why, including how the company’s expertise aligns with supporting that specific social issue.
  • Partnerships with or endorsements from other credible third-party organizations, such as non-governmental organization (NGO) reports, certifications, and/or awards.
  • Stakeholder relevance highlighted through specific examples and events to which they can relate. 

4. Balanced Frequency and Consistency

Too much communication about a company’s CSR activities not only impacts budgets, but also can create skepticism among audiences. On the flip side, inconsistent CSR communication may also increase publics’ skepticism.

The key is finding the right cadence to fit the company, audiences, and available channels, alike. Consider a mix of owned, paid, and earned media channels, as each comes with pros and cons so think about what’s right for your stakeholders. And, remember: If you don’t tell your own story, someone else could tell it and possibly distort it. 

5. Leverage the Company’s Network

This can be done by informing employees and building ambassadors through internal communications of CSR activities. The idea is for the communications team to tell others about a company’s CSR activities, but for the rest of the organization and its supporters to show others that the messages are authentic. An added bonus is that there are often CSR activities that enable employees to be directly involved with volunteerism efforts. They make some of the best ambassadors.

With these foundational elements in place, you are well positioned to develop and execute an effective CSR communications plan that not only strengthens the company brand, but also raises awareness of the positive impact that organizations can have in their communities – that’s a win-win for everyone.

How do your company’s CSR initiatives tie back to the organization’s mission or core competency? Use your answers to begin building an impactful CSR messaging platform.

—David Grossman

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