November 16, 2009

CSR and Social Media


In the past month or so, it seems that conversations about the relationship between CSR and social media are everywhere. This obviously isn't a new topic, but it seems to have hit a new level of prominence. Here are some of the exciting articles and studies that have come out on this topic recently:

3BL Media CEO Greg Schneider explores the role of social media in CSR in a piece entitled "The 'Real -Time' of Social Media". He argues that companies must figure out how "...To communicate effectively in ways that a growing, "green-focused" audience, consisting of varied demographics, is responsive to and can trust." Social media tools, he advises, amount to "...new and different ways to reach an audience no longer receptive to traditional methods such as press releases." Furthermore, "...successful organizations have begun to realize that the value of delivering their messages, consistently in all different media formats, engages a passionate audience." I was particularly interested in his argument that companies should deliver their message "where they're (the consumers are) already spending Web time… Forget about the destination Web site. Game over."
 
Cross Border's IR Magazine reports on a study by Lundquist, a "strategic communication consultancy, specialising in online corporate communications". According to IR Magazine, the study "finds that while disclosure of information is usually of a high standard in CSR reporting, communication and interactivity are lacking". The article goes on to say, "The most damning result of this one-way system is that 'companies are publishing a lot of good news and avoiding the hard (sometimes uncomfortable) facts that stakeholders need if they are to judge how well a company is performing in non-financial matters,' states the report." The is particularly problematic because, "As the report points out, the internet has brought about higher expectations for corporate response." The IR Magazine article is here, while the Lundquist report is here. Jo Confino of the Guardian reacted to the study here.

In CSRWire, Bill Baue of Sea Change Media wrote an article entitled, "Corporate Social Responsibility + Social Media = Power of Transformation". He is working with Marcy Murningham and Bob Massie on a research project for the Harvard Kennedy School's Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative, about Web 2.0 and corporate accountability. In the post, he talks about his experiences at several recent conferences and the connection between those events and the theme of CSR and Web 2.0. I was particularly intrigued by the following statement: "The week's takeaways: web 2.0 holds great promise to transform the way companies engage with stakeholders, but we are still way early in the innovation curve on using web 2.0 to advance corporate sustainability and accountability!" It sounds as though he's distinguishing between the use of social media as a tool to talk about CSR and the use of social media to actually advance one's CSR activities - I think that's an important distinction, and it's one that can be easy to forget about.

In Mashable, one of my favorite sources of news on social media, Melissa Jun Rowley wrote an article entitled, "Why Social Media Is Vital to Corporate Social Responsibility". So many good quotes!
  • "The result of things like the current economic climate and recognition of global climate change, society is starting to push past awareness and into action." (Reminds me of the move fromWeb 1.0 to 2.0)
  • "…The standard for CSR is being redefined and is evolving as a driver of innovation."
  • "There was a time when companies issued press releases, and operated under the impression that they controlled the message of their brand. Those days are gone. Today, the brand image is linked to the thoughts and conversations of a company's consumers. Therefore, businesses must get to know their constituents."
  • "Absolute transparency, no holds barred, is key."
  • "When consumers are treated as citizens, they can do everything from helping a company amplify its voice, to voting on the style of a new product, to improving a service."
Cone has released the results of its 2009 Consumer New Media Study. You can download the findings here. Among the intriguing conclusions:
  • "Almost 80 percent (78%) of new media users interact with companies or brands via new media sites and tools, an increase of 32 percent from 2008 (59%)." (What an opportunity this is for companies to build meaningful relationships with their consumers!)
  • Of course, this new opportunity comes with increased responsibility: "New media users overwhelmingly believe companies or brands should not only have a presence in new media (95%) but also interact with their consumers (89%)." (This is consistent with Lundquist's conclusion that people expect increased responsiveness from companies in this internet age.)
  • "Forty-four percent of American new media users are searching for, sharing or discussing information about corporate responsibility (CR) efforts and programs..."
  • "Sixty-two percent of users polled believe they can influence business decisions by voicing opinions via new media channels. " (I love this stat!! I think this connects back to Melissa Jun Rowley's statements about treating consumers as citizens, quoted just above - is there something big here?) 
Of course, if you're interested in this topic, you're probably already familiar with Justmeans, which, among other things, helps companies "Syndicate (their) good work to multiple social networks with Justmeans" in order to "Attract and ignite advocates for better business". Justmeans recently put on the Social Media for Sustainability conference. Bill Baue talks about the event in the CSRWire article discussed previously in this post. If anyone else attended and can share some of the highlights, or knows where presentations or videos might be posted, please share!

I'm very curious to see where this is going. If you see great examples of how companies are using social media as part of their CSR efforts, or if you have thoughts on the key themes that run through these activities, I'd love to hear more.

4 comments:

  1. Two very recent examples of companies doing interesting things with CSR and social media:

    1) MillerCoors has an interactive CSR website (http://www.greatbeergreatresponsibility.com/), in which it both communicates to consumers about its CSR activities, as well as solicits their involvement (including a "What you can do" section)

    2) The Chase Community Giving is crowdsourcing grantmaking through a Facebook app, allowing users to vote on who should get funding - see Fast Company's take on the project: http://www.fastcompany.com/blog/ariel-schwartz/sustainability/facebook-chase-team-crowdsourced-philanthropy-program

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  2. Great "how to" article on this topic, by Peter Knight in The Green Economy Post: http://greeneconomypost.com/how-to-get-your-sustainability-message-cyberspace-6181.htm

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  3. Another example from JohnsonDiversey: http://bit.ly/jdaction

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