CSR and Social Media

Companies have an ambivalent relationship with corporate social responsibility. To the extent that CSR involves commitment to compliance, environmental targets, strategic philanthropy, annual reporting and some level of stakeholder engagement, it is comfortable or at least acceptable as a risk mitigation strategy.

However, most CSR programs are starved of what Canadian Business For Social Responsibility (CBSR) calls the truly 'transformational', what I like to think of as the broader promises for accountable behaviour, transparency, community-building and dialogue (the "art of thinking together" - William Issacs). This is not to say this is for every company either easy or even desirable. Some industries and service sectors, whose products simply use up non-renewable resources, will never achieve anything even close to social assent.

Here's one idea though for companies who want to do a little more than the routine CSR hygiene activities: Explore the possibility that people may want to talk with you about what you are doing. The most productive way of doing that today is through social media. Although the risk-benefit ratio is a little higher than, say, hand-picking a stakeholder advisory panel to advise on your CSR report, the upside of creating or, better, joining social media platforms -- in knowledge-gained and friends made -- is worth it.

Some recent writings that throw a little light on what's possible:

  • At 'Reimaging CSR', Jessica Stannard-Friel provides a summary of recent discussion about the part that a social media strategy can play in ratcheting up the impact of CSR in organizations. Ms Stannard-Friel herself is an observant commenter on CSR trends.
  • An article in Fast Company looks at how an American bank is using crowdsourcing to select the beneficiaries of its strategic philanthropy program.
  • Melissa Rowley at Mashable gives three good reasons for using social media as part of a company's CSR program . . . "getting to know your constituents", "influencing customers as citizens", and "getting your good work out there".

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