Businesses used to revolve primarily around growth, revenue, and costs – the economic bottom line.
However, today’s customers want to know that the organizations they buy products from or do business with share their values, leading many businesses to embrace corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a way of life.
The triple bottom line – one that demonstrates a company’s positive impact on its finances, the communities it does business with, and the environments it affects – is a must in a healthy business model.
The role of marketing and public relations in these CSR initiatives is to make sure customers are aware of a brand’s programs and efforts. This calls for well-planned campaigns that build relationships and demonstrate a company’s commitment in an authentic manner.
Engaging established and respected CSR influencers, whether they are journalists, bloggers, or key stakeholders, can be critical to communications success. Although owned and paid media shouldn’t be ignored, earned media from key CSR influencers has the potential of spreading your message much further.
Familiarize Yourself with CSR Trends and Practices
Before launching any communications, it’s important to have a strong understanding of the overall CSR landscape. If you’re not already familiar with the topic, you’ll want to start your research with keyword searches on social media and Google, then go deeper by reading articles, blog posts, white papers, and perhaps some books.
Get familiar with new websites and publications that may come up. If you have access to a PR targeting tool, use it to identify CSR-related publications that you can add to your reading list.
See What Others are Doing
Don’t forget the value of seeing how other organizations are talking about their social and sustainability initiatives. Research what other brands are doing by reading press releases or following PR Newswire’s Twitter account @TotalCSR.
Use search engines to find stories that succeeded in getting earned media, then look at how the organization communicated their efforts.
You don’t want to copy a successful CSR communications plan, but you certainly want to learn from it and leverage methodologies that align with your own initiatives.
Get to Know Your Audience
Authenticity is key to CSR outreach, so make sure your understanding of it is more than cursory.
Although you may already have an understanding of your brand or industry’s overall CSR audience, you’ll have to dig deeper to isolate the contingency speaking out about the social causes related to your activities. If you have access to a monitoring platform, you’ll want to add keywords around the programs you’re running, such as: environment, social good, or sustainability.
Identify Your Influencers
Your research will help you identify some key CSR influencers in your industry. Start making a list. Follow them on Twitter, subscribe to their blogs, and bookmark publications they regularly write for.
You should also use a media targeting tool to build your list of influencers beyond the bloggers, journalists, and industry stakeholders you’ve identified in your own network.
However, don’t just run a list based on a couple of keywords and call it a day. Any good media list is well-researched and pruned.
You waste the influencer’s time and your own by trying to get them to cover something that is not of interest to them.
You have to read their work and understand what they write or speak publicly about. Yes, it means more research, but it will be well worth it when you get genuine coverage for your story. Earned media is still the best way to influence potential buyers.
Build Relationships on Social
A relationship can start with something as simple as a handshake or a retweet. In-person meetings aside, you’ll definitely want to leverage Twitter to make your brand and its initiatives known in the CSR space.
If your brand is small, you might use your main Twitter account, but if your flagship account already has a lot going on, it might be wise to have a separate Twitter profile for your CSR efforts.
Follow, retweet, and engage in conversations started by the influencers you’ve identified. Share others’ content. Don’t be pushy and certainly don’t make these interactions all about you.
You also want to make sure your understanding of the topics you comment on is current. This means going back to step one over and over to do more research.
Don’t Forget Your Internal Influencers
It’s easy to overlook some very important influencers: Your employees!
At their heart, CSR programs are grassroots efforts. You have to get company buy-in by empowering the internal influencers who can motivate change across your organization. A top-down approach doesn’t work as well.
The collective online reach of your workforce would be a huge miss to ignore. Think of how many Facebook friends, Twitter followers, LinkedIn connections, etc. that each employee has – it starts to add up.
Whether it’s charitable giving, an office volunteer day, or a long-term CSR program, you want to tell people about it. Encourage your employees to share – with photos and videos – what they’re doing. Then amplify their posts by curating and re-sharing some of them on your own channels.
Doing so can have a significant effect on staff morale. People want to feel good about what they do and who they work for.
A well-communicated CSR program will make a positive impact not only on the environment and community, but also on sales, recruiting, and employee retention. It’s a win all the way around.
If you’re not leveraging your CSR initiatives and other company enrichment programs in your public relations strategy, you’re not taking full advantage of PR’s power.
Download Best Practices for Growth: Aligning PR Programs to Corporate Strategy to learn more about using public relations to influence everything from your company’s web traffic and lead generation to buyer and investor decisions.
Victoria Harres is vice president, strategic communications and content at PR Newswire. She was the original twitterer on @PRNewswire and continues as part of that team. If she’s not at her desk, you’ll find her in the garden.
14 Comments on Blog Post Title
This is a very informative post. I know when I think about who I want to work for in the future CSR plays a big part in that decision. It is extremely important and yet overlooked to include employees as key influencers for promoting CSR programs. I know I would be more than excited to share and discuss what my company is doing to better effect the community.
Thanks for reading Christina. Employees should be thought of as a critical part of external communications in general for a business, but especially with CSR. I think a lot of us, like you, are more than happy to share a message about our employer doing good.
Hi Victoria! Great post. I wrote a post about CSR in digital marketing a few weeks ago:
I love that you say, "Encourage your employees to share ? with photos and videos ? what they're doing. Then amplify their posts by curating and re-sharing some of them on your own channels." REI is one company that did a great job with this. I would suggest checking out their #yayday CSR initiative. Thanks for a great read
Thanks for reading Elizabeth! And I do love the #yayday idea from REI. What a great initiative. We have volunteer days at PR Newswire. We get paid to volunteer at non-profits of our choosing.
These are some great tips! I think another important tip is getting feedback from your peers as well. After you have submitted your CSR report, figure out what your flaws were. Use that information to make your edits in order to continually update your report and ensure a successful CSR.
Really informative and useful article! I agree CSR as one of integrated parts of brands identity in today’s world. Using the power of influencer both exterior and interior to share the content, deliver the attitude and cast influence on consumers is an effective tool to brand construction.
Allison, I can’t agree with you more. Employee involvement throughout the CSR process is so important. For an initiative to work well you need wide commitment and involvement and the best way to do that is to let employees be partners in the process.
Chenxi, thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. CSR is indeed an effective tool for shaping brand identity.
I think the most important thing a company or organization needs to do to get public support is to get to know their audience. This will influence what kind of campaigns, advertising or otherwise, you should run. More importantly, knowing your audience will help you create a connection with them making them more loyal to you and your brand.
Thank you so much for sharing these insightful tips with us. I am learning about CSR these days in class. I have finished a hypothetical CSR memo for a chosen company and I have completed a hypothetical fact sheet for it. And then my classmates and I find that seeing what others are doing is really helpful for us, we newbies. We can get tons of ideas from those companies’ stories. We can lean a lot from what they have communicated successfully. And the most important is that we learn from a great CSR communications plan and then we know and think what we can add, what we can improve and what stories we should have in order to "leverage methodologies that align with your own initiatives."
Very insightful article. This article will be very helpful for new initiatives like ours. Thank you Victoria for wonderfully highlighting the promotional tips for #CSR activities.
Thank you Jacob for reading. Glad it was of use to you. Good luck with your initiatives!
I enjoyed this read, especially about the involvement of employees within CSR which I feel is often overlooked! What is your opinion on using CSR to generate income?
I liked this post.Thanks and regards