How to Effectively Communicate CSR Successes
American companies in Thailand don’t only do well; they also do good. From large multinationals to small businesses and startups, companies recognize the importance and benefits of investing in communities where they work and live. Corporate social responsibility ( CSR) is not a trend – it is a core value of doing business. It is no longer acceptable to do a little bit of environmental management here and some community involvement there; companies are expected to construct a sound framework of activities that are aligned with their core values and enhance their responsible business practices. The question is no longer whether or not to integrate CSR into your corporate agenda but how to do so, as data shows that not engaging in CSR can actually hurt a company.
WHY IS CSR IMPORTANT?
Beyond the obvious benefits of making the world a better place, CSR is exceptionally good for business. Social philanthropy has proven to be very powerful in influencing consumer attitude and consumer behavior. Studies show that 88% of consumers are more likely to buy from a company that engages in activities that benefit society. In the age of informed and socially conscious consumers, companies that have built and retain a reputation for caring about the environment and social issues enjoy greater customer loyalty and brand recognition.
A successful CSR strategy can inspire consumers to become brand ambassadors and spread positive word- of- mouth about the company or product. The internet magnifies this effect as consumers are using social media platforms to communicate their enthusiasm for a company or brand because of its socially responsible practices. There is a flip side to this coin though. Consumers have been known to ‘ punish’ companies they believe are not behaving in socially responsible ways by boycotting their products and encouraging others to do the same.
Looking closer to home, CSR is an excellent tool for increasing employee engagement and dedication. The Millennials, your future workforce, are hyperaware and have high expectations of CSR efforts. They are not only likely to switch brands to one associated with a cause – they have also been known to switch employers if they perceive the company as socially irresponsible. Polls have found that 78% of Millennials consider the company’s CSR strategy when choosing where to work. Social responsibility is also a powerful motivator for existing employees and fosters employee loyalty, commitment, team spirit, pride, and sense of belonging and purpose, which positively affect employee productivity.
Last but not least, well designed and well communicated CSR efforts help differentiate your company from the competitors, generate positive publicity, improve your business standing, and provide access to investment and funding opportunities. You simply cannot afford not to do CSR.
COMMUNICATING CSR SUCCESSES
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? This is a question that has been preoccupying philosophers for centuries. Nowa- days, communications professionals wonder: if a good CSR campaign is implemented, but no one hears about it, does it make an impact? Of course it does, but a widely communicated CSR effort can have a multiplier effect. In addition to improving the reputation of the company and affecting consumer behavior, a well- executed CSR PR campaign has the power to mobilize other companies, institutions, and individuals to join the effort, resulting in increased awareness and greater benefits to the cause. Similarly, one company’s effort can inspire other companies to take up their own social causes, creating a society- wide ripple effect of wellbeing.
How CSR successes are communicated, however, is essential in determining whether your campaign will be seen as a genuine act of philanthropy or a selfserving marketing ploy. It is a very thin line to walk.
Your CSR report is only one medium for communicating your CSR impact and the shareholders are only one segment of your target audience. When you implement community initiatives, your stakeholders also include your employees, customers, community representatives, NGOS, and the general public. Consequently, you should think beyond numbers and figures and communicate stories: of human interest, of change, of impact. Your stakeholders will want to hear why the cause is important, what the expected benefits and who the
The question is no longer whether or not to integrate CSR into your corporate agenda but how to do so, as data shows that not engaging in CSR can actually hurt a company.
intended beneficiaries are, and how you intend to turn a one- off effort into a sustainable course of action resulting in lasting change.
Before you start strategizing about the type of media you need to engage, the opinion leaders you need to woo, and the number of views, clicks, and shares you need to justify your PR budget, it is important to consider the power of the message. A good message resonates, and when communicated in an honest, authentic, continuous, and responsive manner, it will go a long way in getting you that much- coveted media coverage.
ELEMENTS OF EFFECTIVE CSR COMMUNICATION
• Transparency and honesty First and foremost, your communication needs to be transparent and honest. Your customers are informed about your products and the causes you support; connected with other consumers; engaged in social causes; and they have a wealth of information at their fingertips ( literally). Fudging numbers and facts is a very dangerous game to play in the age of information and sharing, and it could cost you a lot more that your reputation and credibility.
For a CSR campaign to be authentic, the motives behind the support need to be clearly visible and the congruence between the company’s function and the cause needs to be high. For example, if a company that produces mink coats announces that their cause of choice is eradicating cruelty to animals, this might raise more than a few eyebrows and lead to a wellpublicized visit by PETA activists. Similarly, don’t try to obscure the fact that there are business interests behind your company’s support for a cause. Consumers are aware that a business’s bottom line is profit and pretending otherwise might make them question your motives. The motivation driving a company’s support for a cause is important because the public relates motive to the company’s character. If consumers become skeptical of your motives, it will quickly sour any positive feelings they might have had towards your brand, and thanks to social media the negative publicity will spread like wildfire.
• Continuity and Frequency
Informing stakeholders of your CSR efforts and successes should not be relegated to the annual CSR report and an occasional press release with ‘ before and after’ photos. Find a mechanism that will allow you to keep stakeholders regularly informed of progress, challenges, obstacles overcome, and lives changed. Your company’s commitment to the cause and to CSR in general will be measured in terms of the longevity, follow through, and im- pact of your effort. A study showed that when a company’s CSR effort was short- term, consumers thought that the company was participating in CSR only to meet others’ expectations instead of acting on the principles of the organization. So keep the stakeholders apprised of your continued efforts, keep the lines of communications open, and do not be afraid to also communicate failure – vulnerability is relatable.
AMCHAM AS A CHAMPION OF CSR
AMCHAM members are clearly committed to corporate social responsibility. In the eight years since the AMCHAM CSR Excellence ( ACE) Award was established, the number of companies that were recognized for their exemplary CSR efforts increased from 2 in 2007 to 62 companies in 2015. Good corporate citizenship and environmentally responsible business practices are two of the Chamber’s fundamental business principles that all members are expected to adhere to.
In order to further encourage investment in communities, in 2004 AMCHAM founded the AMCHAM Thailand Charitable Foundation ( ATCF). The Foundation provides scholarships to Thai university students, sponsors teachers to increase the Englishspeaking capacity of young Thais, and matches donors with needy schools around Thailand through the Adopta- School program. Adopt- a- School is a one- stop, ready- made CSR program for companies lacking the resources to devise and implement their own projects. Donors are matched with schools in need of renovation, facilities, or materials, and the project is vetted, implemented, and supervised by ATCF. We even promote the donation and results of the project through AMCHAM’S channels. If lack of time or know- how has been the only thing holding you back from participating in CSR, we have a project tailored to your budget and preferences with your name on it. All you have to do is claim it.
Beneficiaries of AMCHAM’S Adopt- a- School program