Despite a strong belief in CSR commitments and results, 63 percent of consumers admit to not knowing where to find such information.
Editor's Note: It's that time of the year again and we're ready to wrap up 2012. Like last year, we've assembled an impressive lineup of thought leaders and experts who will examine the year that was, guide us on what might be ahead and offer their advice on how our business, social and environmental consciousness continues to converge. They will spotlight achievements, highlight trends and activate the change makers among us in our end of the year CSR & Sustainability 2012 series. Consider this series a call to action.
Today's editorial is by Julie Urlaub, founder & managing director of Taiga Company, a sustainability social media consulting firm.
“When it comes to corporate social responsibility, consumers want more than aspirational mission statements…84 percent of Americans hold companies accountable for producing and communicating the results of CSR commitments by going beyond the mission to robustly communicate progress against well-defined purpose…Companies that proactively share the details and results of their CSR efforts, rather than just their aspirations, will be rewarded with increased consumer trust and purchasing.”
So claims the 2012 Cone Communications Corporate Social Return Trend Tracker. The study finds that environmental awareness continues to be on the rise and consumers are demanding more business sustainability action from the companies they support.
However, the study also points to a wide gap:
“Despite this strong belief in CSR commitments and results, 63 percent of consumers admit to not knowing where to find such information and 55 percent say that they don’t understand the impact they are having when buying a product from a company that says it is socially responsible.”
Consumers Want Transparency…But Where Do You Look?
As it is, consumers want transparent, credible CSR information, yet are challenged in finding it. Complicating matters, there are discrepancies in consumer perceptions on sustainability and organizational realities. As noted in the 2012 Sustainability Leadership Report conducted by the Institute for Supply Management, there has been a dramatic increase in and commitment to corporate sustainability.
But perception about sustainability leadership has more to do with successful communication strategies than actual efforts.
Of the 100 companies that were surveyed, 12 in the top tier of sustainability leadership for 2011 saw significant declines in perceived stewardship despite their increased efforts for greater sustainability. And these slippages occurred at companies we have come to expect at the “greening” forefront, including stalwarts like 3M, Colgate-Palmolive, Nokia, IBM, Walt Disney, and Cisco.
Communicating purpose driven, resource rich, intelligent information and data to stakeholder groups is critical. Listening and engaging to stakeholder groups is an even more sophisticated task. Social media is paving the way as a communications agent and requires precision to capture the benefits. Organizations seek the gains of getting the "credit" for sustainable business strategies, the benefit of enhanced brand reputation, and more importantly, engagement with CSR minded stakeholders.
Looking back over the year, which organizations have lead the way?
Cisco's Social Media Listens
Cisco is diverting from the age-old PR tradition of push communications with the recent launch of Cicso Social Media Listens. Others like GE, IBM, Ford, PepsiCo, Levi's, Timberland and SAP have leveraged social media gains through a variety of platforms including dedicated websites and blogs, apps, infographics, social sharing in sustainability reports, and an interactive materiality matrix like SAP.
Looking forward to 2013, what trends can we expect?
Trends: Social Media & CSR
1. Using Social Media for CSR Communication
Social media for CSR communications will gain momentum. Because CSR reports are stagnate, communicating through social media creates pathways for stakeholders to interact directly with a company about its CSR program. Through social media, companies gain a following of people who are interested in their CSR performance and can monitor, engage, and share in key relevant CSR related information and sentiment on any emerging issue.
2. Responsible Advertising & Social Media
Also, the emergence of responsible advertising via social media engagement is expected to increase. Waste diversion, carbon footprint and sustainable procurement statistics can provide good content for social media in the forms of tweets, Facebook posts, LinkedIn updates and more.
Communications providing a lifecycle approach to product communications offers educational and branding components. Information sharing how long a product will last, sourcing of materials, instructions for proper disposal and clear recycling and compostable conditions are examples of information sharing but done properly, exercise engagement and collaboration.
Social media executed successfully can be a powerful vehicle to build sustainable business communications by engaging with stakeholders. With new tools and strategies changing the way the business world communicates and exchanges information, social media is becoming the transparent, engaging, competitive advantage that business sustainability delivers.
Where do you place social media in your CSR strategy?
About the Author:
Julie Urlaub is the Founder and Managing Partner of Taiga Company, a sustainability social media consulting firm, where she aids client's to powerfully engage in sustainability related issues and stakeholder communications in the social media space. Her effervescent attitude inspires others to eco action. Leading by example, with over 32,000 twitter followers and a blog with global reach, she works with companies to maximize sustainability strategies and to communicate how their sustainability strategies are making a difference in their business and our world. Not only does Julie walk the talk, she rides it too as an endurance mountain bike racer.