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7 Steps to Effective Corporate Social Responsibility

January 9, 2013 by


Corporate Social Responsibility

Usually, when you launch a business, you funnel your resources and energy into your company – not into helping others. Yet we live in a time when many customers judge companies by their demonstration of compassion and integrity. This has become such a fundamental aspect of the business landscape that there’s even a name for such initiatives: Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

Check the websites of most major companies and you’ll see content highlighting the work they’re doing to protect the planet or support their local communities. That’s because smart businesses embed their charitable projects in their marketing plans, using their community relations or sustainability efforts to engage customers and boost site traffic through clever promotion.

Yet, while many big corporations have endowment arms, such projects can be a challenge for startups that lack the budget for grand philanthropic gestures. But even a modest effort can pay dividends in both positive publicity and customer loyalty. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Define your messaging. Don’t strike blindly at different goals, such as preserving rainforests one quarter and then investing in a community project the next. Come up with causes that resonate with your business culture, research the kind of support they need, then pick one and stick with it. One is enough for a small business – and don’t feel pressured to donate more funding or assistance than you can afford.
  2. Involve your customers. If you haven’t picked a cause yet, come up with a list of alternatives and ask your web site visitors and Facebook fans to vote on which one they would like to see you support. Or actively seek their assistance, such as bringing old but usable technology into your store so that you can donate them to students in underfunded schools. Make sure you offer a potential reward, such as holding a raffle for all participants.
  3. Create a scorecard. Make sure it features achievable and measureable goals and keep it visible on your site, tracking your progress. Be honest about any setbacks – you want the tone to be authentic, not promotional.
  4. Use social media. Don’t just tell your customers what you’re doing; solicit their ideas, experiences and concerns to get them invested in your projects. Make sure you use multiple digital platforms – such as blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and a YouTube channel – to reach people with different media preferences.
  5. Partner with a third party. Forming an alliance with a non-profit will not only lend credibility to your efforts, but let you benefit from the non-profit’s greater experience in fundraising and philanthropy. The alliance will also offer an opportunity to blend customers and networks.
  6. Seek publicity. If you’ve never sought media coverage for your business before, this might be the time to start. Send out a press release about any contests, events or fundraising drives – and reach out to media outlets that present on green topics as they’ll be apt to give you positive coverage.
  7. Repurpose your CSR reports. Using charts, stories, and photos in your annual reports and newsletters will appeal to stakeholders and shareholders alike.

Most corporate social responsibility projects won’t deliver an immediate boost in your company’s financial performance. But implemented sincerely and leveraged cleverly, they can bring positive publicity, enhance your corporate reputation, and deepen customer engagement – in addition to giving you the satisfaction of knowing you’ve truly assisted someone in need.

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  • REO

    Giving funds, time, or product to nonprofit organizations whose mission resonates with your company and its stakeholders is important. This is philanthropy or community relations; it is not the same as Corporate Social Responsibility. CSR, as noted in the graphic is: people, planet, profit: How do you treat and engage the people who work for you and others who are impacted by your existence? What are you doing to lighten your environmental impact, protect the environments impacted by your business? The ideal is that these factors become part of your business model, not a separate function of your business. Small, start-up businesses can have impact, albeit differently than large, established businesses, particularly in innovative steps.

    • http://www.caycon.com/ Akira Hirai

      I took a slightly broader view of CSR, but either way it’s good to see corporations striving to do more than profit maximization.

  • Toni

    I agree that in modern society, a corporation or organisations popularity is
    weighted by its social responsibility. However, this blog, which reads as a
    ‘how to’ guide to use Corporate Social Responsibility as a marketing strategy
    misses the point of implementing these actions in the day to day business
    model.

    It seems
    irresponsible to create a public persona based upon social responsibility when
    behind the scenes; they are not fulfilling this obligation to the consumer.
    Consumers now want to form a relationship with the industry wherein an open dialect
    is created between stakeholder and organisation. The public are looking to have
    a personal experience with corporations and by showing that they have an
    interest in society and the environment; the organisations are essentially
    personifying themselves to the public. This responsibility can be beneficial to
    a company as being a sustainable enterprise can be cost effective as well as
    boost popularity as it can be a distinguishing trait.

    By focusing
    on CSR as a marketing tool, you end up disregarding how a business can
    implement strategies that diminish its impact on the environment and society
    and therefore create a more sustainable business model without having to market
    its efforts to the public. Being socially responsible also means to take care of
    your employees and business partners. To be a socially responsible business I
    believe you need to look at ways to factor this responsibility into your
    business model, not just use it as a marketing strategy to boost your profile
    with key stakeholders and solidify customer engagement.

    It is
    definitely true that greater emphasis is being placed on Corporate Social
    Responsibility (CSR) being used as a marketing tool for big companies.
    Marketing strategies have evolved from attracting new customers by enhanced
    products and greater market shares to a “shift in thinking towards
    consumers and social orientation, or adding value through social
    responsibility” (Mersham et al. 2009, p.33).

    Providing
    social support locally has become the norm for corporations in New Zealand.
    Looking at McDonalds as an example, it is a global fast food restaurant that
    supports and fundraises for children’s sports. When you access their webpage
    there is a whole area dedicated to their social responsibility which highlights their focus on supporting Kiwi children. As a global company,
    their charitable contributions will differ in each country but it shows they
    are invested in their consumers at a local level. As it is considered a family
    friendly eatery, it makes sense to focus their social campaign on children.

    In recent
    years there has been a spotlight on New Zealand’s obesity crisis, as a direct
    result of this, McDonalds has now got a ‘Healthy Choices’ menu which offer
    healthier alternatives to their standard burgers and fries menu. This shows
    that they had researched into what social issues New Zealand was facing and
    incorporated these into their business model. This example of McDonalds using
    their CSR as a clever promotional tool highlights this bloggers idea of CSR as
    a marketing strategy but expands further by incorporating it in to their day to
    day business model.

    Another company that integrates their CSR into their marketing strategy is Z
    Energy, the latest New
    Zealand petrol company. They highlight that
    they are a New Zealand
    company and push the fact that they ‘listen to New Zealanders’ in their
    marketing campaigns. Their latest television advertisement states that they are
    actively contributing to the New Zealand Superannuation fund and are therefore
    focusing their marketing strategy on the large ‘Baby Boomers’ generation in
    this country. On their website it states “You told us the idea of a New Zealand energy brand, run by Kiwis and with
    a heavy dose of New Zealand
    attitude is compelling.” (http://z.co.nz/about-z/who-is-z-energy/).
    This shows us they took the time to research their target audience and who
    would benefit the greatest from their social obligations but still provide them
    with profitability.

    While both
    McDonalds and Z Energy are prominent businesses in New Zealand, this blog does focus
    more on smaller businesses. However, I
    disagree in that they should use this CSR model as only a means to an end for
    profitability. Using this model for profit building goes against the very idea
    of being socially responsible and therefore sets up these small businesses to
    be less socially engaging when they do start to turn a profit. The traits that
    make an ethical person should be able to be implemented by a business. It is in
    the best interests of a small business owner to engage with their community as
    much as possible and the best way to do this is through community driven
    philanthropy. Something as small as providing oranges for a local sports team
    at half time can bring in a large number of new customers.

    Therefore,
    in response to this blog and its opinions, I would have to say that while yes,
    using CSR as a marketing tool is beneficial; it needs to expand into the
    business model to be worthwhile. Showing you are a socially responsible
    business needs to be backed up by employing these traits in to the day to day
    running of your company. This blogger centralizes CSR to just a marketing tool
    when really its implications are wide and varied. Small businesses looking to
    expand their social profile need only to look at these bigger corporations such
    as Z Energy and McDonalds to see how being socially active has helped their
    public persona and created greater revenue for themselves.

    • http://www.caycon.com/ Akira Hirai

      Toni,

      Thanks for the insightful comments!

      I completely agree that CSR should be a core element of a company’s mission, rather than a persona adopted for marketing purposes. I actually took as given that the company has already adopted a CSR philosophy and was writing about leveraging its beliefs in its marketing.

      Best,
      Akira

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