United States

The importance of telling the CSR story

Effective corporate social responsibility communication matters


How are CSR benefits and successes communicated? According to an RSM US Middle Market Business Index survey, over half of the respondents who have a formal CSR plan indicated their organizations use social media (64 percent) or the company’s website (60 percent) to communicate achievements or progress on social responsibility efforts.

“An effective way CSR efforts get amplified at companies is through internal and external storytelling that highlights the benefits and value of various programs,” Laczo says. She points to stories about volunteer efforts, specific donations and community services communicated on a company’s website or via news releases, the internal employee news site or through a partnering charitable organization’s own public and media relations efforts. She adds that when someone outside the organization shares the story, it brings even more weight and authenticity to the program.

“Social media also plays a huge role in telling a company’s CSR story,” says Laczo. “Sharing through corporate channels like LinkedIn or Facebook is important, but I also think it's valuable when employees promote stories through their own social media. Having employees share that information gives power to the message because then it's not just the company telling its story. When employees share with their own friends, family and business contacts it says they believe in the program and they're proud to showcase what the organization is doing.”

The lack of more formalized planning and ongoing communications may present a missed opportunity to reap the full benefits of a CSR strategy.

An effective CSR strategy and resulting stories can also have lasting impact on a company’s brand reputation. According to a U.S. Chamber Foundation study on this topic (in partnership with IBM) key findings included:

  • There is real value for companies to strategically frame and discuss their CSR efforts online
  • Framing discussions in ways that encourage a thoughtful and emotional response can elicit more interest from users of social media, and encourages them to write about a company’s CSR initiatives
  • Promoting a company’s CSR work converts people who think about a company “neutrally” to “positively”
  • Over time, companies that increased promotion of CSR work online experienced improvements in how they are viewed by social media users

While smaller middle market companies may have strong CSR initiatives in place, the lack of more formalized planning and ongoing communications may present a missed opportunity to fully reap the benefits of such efforts. Organizations demonstrating a vital and strategic CSR plan and diverse culture can be more appealing to employees, fostering belief in their organizations’ core values. Moreover, the culture fortifies their own beliefs and passions and shows how they, through their companies, can have a social impact.

In today’s tight labor market—where the national unemployment rate in 2018 hovered around 4 percent—CSR is critical, especially among millennials who by 2025 will make up 75 percent of the workforce. These employees hope to improve the world through compassion, innovation and sustainability, with their professional lives integrated into these efforts. In fact, 50 percent of millennials say they would take a pay decrease to find work that aligns with their values, while 90 percent indicate they want to use their skills for good. CSR is that important to them, and it should be that important to middle market companies, too.

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Report explores corporate social responsibility, diversity and inclusion in the middle market and the value of formalized planning.

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