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Social: Where CSR Brand Leadership is Won or Lost

Despite increasing demand for information and engagement, why are so many brands still reticent to participate on social media?

Submitted by: Jonathan Yohannan

Posted: Jun 03, 2013 – 09:30 AM EST

Tags: csr, social media, stakeholder engagement, consumer trends, twitter, linkedin, facebook


By Jonathan Yohannan

Social media is breaking down geographic, economic and cultural barriers to provide an unprecedented and public view of how companies invest, operate and engage with stakeholders regarding social and environmental issues.

Today, nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of global consumers use social media to engage with companies around social and environmental issues, according to the 2013 Cone Communications/Echo Global CSR Study.

However, despite increasing demand for information and engagement, many brands are reticent to participate. Some reasons include lack of capacity to engage, fear of increased transparency, and complacency regarding current communications. As a result, new stakeholder expectations are being unmet. In fact, 63 percent of consumers say they don’t know where to find information about a company’s CSR efforts according to the 2012 Cone Communications Corporate Social Return Trend Tracker.

If you find your company in a similar situation, what should you do?

Start by Listening

Social is now the destination for CSR data opinions and stories. Media, influencers and employees (current and potential) are using search as a barometer of company reputation and performance. And consumers feel empowered to voice their opinions as well.

According to our latest global research, 34 percent of global citizens will share positive information about companies and issues they care about, Cone Corporate Social Return Trend Trackerwhile a quarter (26%) will share the negative. While Google remains the leader in search, it is social media channels like Twitter and LinkedIn where the engagement is happening.

Job one is to sort through the noise and data to mine for trends and opportunities. Fortunately, social monitoring tools can do much of the heavy lifting in terms of identifying praise and criticism flying around Twitter, Facebook and other channels. For instance, social monitoring can pick up CSR themes such as product misuse or concerns about human rights.

Don’t Get Caught By Surprise

Social media is a gift and a curse. With nearly a third (29%) of global consumers taking to social to learn more about specific companies and issues, real time information heightens expectations for brand involvement in social and environmental issues. From weather related disasters to concerns about ingredient safety by mom groups, companies are expected to lead and respond.

However, many companies miss these opportunities because individuals aren’t empowered to make real-time business commitments or respond to stakeholder concerns quickly due to complicated bureaucracy and structures. Often, social media strategies – especially at large companies – involve convoluted structures and ironically negate the real time essence of participating on social media.

In fact, insights from social media (if used effectively) can provide information on raw material innovations, supply chain disruptions, ethical concerns regarding ingredients, and other matters that can mitigate risk and enhance brand value.

role of business in society

Inspire Others to Tell Your Story

Why are competitors getting undue credit? You may be using 20th century communication tools. Hoping stakeholders will naturally learn about your CSR commitments is unrealistic in today’s digital world. CSR messages and stories need to be actively embedded in both corporate and brand communications. CSR is an essential tool that should be leveraged to earn trust of customers, employees, NGOs and others that can build or erode reputation with the click of a mouse.

Focus on individuals that have credibility, expertise, relevance and reach against your core business issues. Many companies think they are covered by conducting annual stakeholder engagement sessions as part of their CSR reporting, but skip engagement with CSR social influencers.

If you’re in apparel, anticipate inquiries about how products are made. If you’re in the food business, anticipate concerns or questions about allergens or health and safety issues. Make information easy to find. But, go beyond one-way information sharing and search optimization.

Create a systematic and targeted CSR engagement strategy for social. Having regular dialogue around issues on social enables companies to hit a broader set of stakeholders with frequency to test ideas, social mediashare progress and challenges and develop solutions together. Focusing on a relatively small set of 25-50 CSR social influencers can provide a halo that protects your brand in good times and bad.

How to Leverage Social to Drive CSR Leadership

Map: Make sure you integrate CSR social influencers in your stakeholder engagement plan. Know and prioritize influencers based on credibility, expertise, relevance and reach.

Empower: Ensure CSR leaders and communicators are empowered to make real-time commitments and decisions.

Tell: Doing good is not good enough. Use new media tools to tell your story with vigor. Make stories reverberate by providing sharable and regular content (videos, infographics, etc.)

Measure: Social tools like SocMetrics, Radian6 and others enable you to track conversations and sharing. Go beyond impressions to demonstrate the business, brand and societal returns for engaging in social from risk mitigation, to brand enhancement.

Evaluate: Don’t expect perfection. Social is not controlled. It’s dynamic and evolving in real time just like CSR issues. And finally, learn from your greatest success and failures.

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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