After a long and often tortuous process of collecting information and then drafting, reviewing, approving and proof-reading, there it is: the sustainability content ready for your website.
And yet, when it seems that the hardest choices have been made, there it comes, the external opinion, the outside perspective. It’s the most unpredictable part of the process due to the variety of people out there with differing habits, expectations and opinions. What’s more, on-screen reading habits mean users will absorb only a small fraction of your actual content.
At Lundquist, we’ve been asking experts, professionals and stakeholders what frustrates them most while navigating corporate sustainability information online and engaging with companies. It’s research we’ve been doing over the past years as part of the CSR Online Awards, drawing on input from 1,600 people. We’ve been looking at the initial reactions in our latest survey, currently ongoing. Here are top four errors to avoid, according to the people who spend most time sifting through online CSR disclosures:
1. Presenting activities only in a flattering light or “spinning” everything with a positive angle
The experts’ advice: People always have their “PR goggles” on to help them peer through the bright veneer of corporate communications to the plain facts beyond. They want to form an opinion upon merits, not to be persuaded. So even when a project or initiative meets targets, do not overlook the fact that in order to reach positive results your company faced challenges and hard times. People want to hear real stories - the myth of perfection doesn’t fool. There is no reason to be scared of presenting drawbacks and (why not?) stressing the fact that your company had all the credentials for overcoming them.
2. No data to support claims.
The experts’ advice: Reliable, quantitative indicators are needed to measure performance over time and give people an unambiguous unit of comparison. One third of our respondents so far feel dissatisfied because they struggle to find performance indicators among corporate responsibility information disclosed online. This can mean either that data were missing or not given adequate visibility.
3. Taking for granted that anyone will be interested in going through your sustainability report.
The experts’ advice: For many audiences, PDF reports have become “invisible” pieces of content, often lengthy and hard to navigate on-screen. While the general public has always found a report a technical exercise using unfamiliar language, a growing proportion of even CSR professionals want to satisfy their curiosity directly online. We have seen that superficiality of information has always been among the most frustrating aspects of CSR communication. Companies have responded to this expectation with greater transparency online. But all too often, the digital space is left as a dry summary of disclosure-driven content. To be aligned with their audiences, companies need to understand that the online realm needs to be treated as a primary channel in its own right. The real challenge is to use digital to “hook” people into your sustainability narrative and given them the option to drill down into deeper information on specific topics.
4. Embellishing communications with an excess of formats, channels and applications - they tend to mislead and confuse
The experts’ advice: A naive fascination with digital tools tends to add complexity to the user experience. This intricacy derives from diversity: too many platforms, too many interconnections, too many formats (and a lack of strategic co-ordination between them). It does not mean you have to focus everything on one channel but it makes it imperative to understand the users’ journey towards and through your CSR “ecosystem”. Try to have a clear mission for each channel, so as to have every aspect exhaustively covered without redundancies. Take a small but evident space to explain your approach to disclosure, clarify what you are going to say, where and how.
If you have never got the chance to criticize “that” multinational company because there was no possibility to get in touch with them – frustrating, isn’t it? - our survey is the opportunity to make your voice heard. It covers other topics such as engagement, materiality and social media and is used by dozens of companies as a guide in their approach to CSR and sustainability.
Discover more and take part in the 7th CSR Online Awards! For more information, you can get in touch with us on our twitter page @Lundquist.