CSR: One Overlooked Way to Bolster Your Brand

Jan 27, 2021

You probably know what CSR is, even if you’ve never heard the term before.

CSR stands for “corporate social responsibility.” Humanitarian efforts made by businesses and corporations to improve society and/or the environment. They’re one way that corporations give back to their communities, and a vital aspect of helping them avoid coming off as cold, uncaring machines that only care about making capital (even when they are).

Chances are your business already engages in CSR to some degree. Have a recycling bin? Great! Taking steps to reduce your office’s carbon footprint? Having your team volunteer at the food kitchen on the weekends once a month? Even better! Some brands are known for doing CSR well, such as Ben & Jerry’s and BMW. Others have made some missteps, such as Volkswagen and Wells Fargo. Good or bad, you’d be hard-pressed to find a brand that doesn’t understand the importance of CSR.

The problem is that many brands fail to properly implement CSR into their social media marketing strategy. According to a research study published in 2019 that looked at eight different company’s Twitter pages—including big names like Nestlé, L’oreal, and Citibank—even companies that did participate in CSR were “not capitalizing on the use of Twitter as a platform to encourage online CSR engagement with consumers and exploit the full reputational benefits of their CSR programs.” And effective marketing means making the most of all the resources at your disposal. As such, here are four tips the study suggests for better using CSR on social media—and bolstering your brand in the process.

“Listen and interact”

The first mistake most brands make is treating social media the same as other, more traditional forms of media.

Traditional media mostly functions like a bullhorn. Brands broadcast information to consumers, but rarely ask consumers for their own opinions, ideas, etc.

Social media functions more like a radio tower (or, more contemporaneously, a Zoom call). Brands are able to communicate with consumers, and consumers are able to ‘call in’ and communicate with brands.

The problem, as you might’ve guessed, is that most businesses treat social media like a bullhorn. Broadcasting information, but engaging too little or not at all with consumers. This problem is compounded when you look at CSR dialogs. Of the 2,440 tweets studied, only 3.1% involved CSR communication. Of that number, only about 13% encouraged actual dialog between brands and consumers.

That’s 10 tweets out of 2,440.

And it isn’t like consumers don’t care about CSR! A study published by Cone Communications in 2015 found that more than half of American adults, and two thirds of millennials, want to engage with brands about their CSR strategies on social media. Globally, the statistics are even more staggering, with 91% of global consumers expecting companies to engage in social and environmental issues, eight-in-ten admitting CSR plays a deciding factor in where they choose to shop, and 52% assuming companies aren’t acting responsibly until they hear otherwise.

Consumers want to help brands improve society and the environment. Not giving them the chance to do so by failing to interact with them and listen to what they have to say on social media not only is a missed opportunity for your brand; it risks harming your brand’s reputation.

“Cut the noise”

Another mistake many brands make is putting out vague posts that have little or nothing to do with the brand itself.

If you run a bakery, it makes sense that consumers who find your page would primarily be looking for information related in some way to your bakery or baked goods. Not the rate at which fingernails grow, or the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. Posting too much of the latter risks causing the consumer to disregard your brand’s content as meaningless noise to be ignored.

One way of avoiding this is by having a set goal in mind when drafting your social media strategy. Your strategy may not—and indeed, probably shouldn’t—revolve solely around your business’s CSR commitments, but they should be a significant part of how you plan your marketing goals. And if you’re having trouble figuring out how to implement CSR into your strategy, look no further than the next tip…

“Create opportunities for co-creation”

Put another way, don’t hog the philanthropy.

Numerous studies have shown that allowing consumers to take part in the creation of CSR initiatives correlates to increased brand value. This doesn’t necessarily mean hiring them on as project leaders and putting them on payroll, although many workplaces could benefit from increased diversity. But giving consumers opportunities to contribute—whether it be by volunteering for projects, giving feedback on past CSR activities, or consulting on how your brand should conduct CSR in the future—can provide a wealth of benefits.

For one thing, providing these opportunities leads to increased consumer engagement. As the study notes, “consumers expect to be invited to provide opinions, ideas, or other content; even if not explicitly asked to do so.”

For another, the feedback could turn out to genuinely be useful. If your team is struggling to come up with ideas for a CSR initiative that fit their budget or vision, or just looking for inspiration, crowdsourcing idea production to social media allows you to tap the boundless creativity of the masses.

Lastly, taking consumers up on their feedback means that your CSR activities will be in line with what consumers actually want to see brands doing. And when consumers see that your brand is actually giving them a say in their initiatives—unlike so many other businesses—it’ll further increase your brand’s reputation.

“Improve internal communication”

The study’s last suggestion is to tighten up your team’s own communication.

If your brand is saving whales and helping build houses for the homeless, but failing to properly communicate those initiatives with consumers on social media, it could suggest a gap between the people in charge of your CSR programs and your marketing team. Having both teams on the same page could improve both your marketing team’s ability to start dialogs regarding those initiatives on social media, and your CSR managers’ ability to implement consumer input when applicable.

In sum, being ethical and being profitable don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Consumers are highly invested in corporate social responsibility, and corporate social responsibility has high potential to better your brand. If your business isn’t already engaging in CSR, maybe it should consider doing so: both for the betterment of your brand, and the rest of society.

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