Moving on in North Carolina…

I’m in beautiful sunny Charlotte today to speak at the third annual conference of the Center for Global Public Relations at the University of North Carolina, which this year is focused on the Millennium Generation.

I gave an overview of Microsoft YouthSpark – our initiative to create opportunities in education, employment and entrepreneurship for 300 million young people around the world over the next three years.

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Henry Doss, Brook DeWalt, John Paluszek and Dr. Alma Kadragic discussing the global challenges facing youth at the conference today.

There are a great collection of people here today and some fantastic hallway discussions.

This is a nice and indeed natural end to my time working on the Citizenship team at Microsoft.  From getting formally involved in our Citizenship efforts when I joined Microsoft in Ireland in 2005, to moving to the United States in 2009 to take on a global communications role for Citizenship, I’ve had a fantastic opportunity to learn, work on amazing projects, with amazing partners and of course an amazing Citizenship team at Microsoft.  And there’s been a lot of fun on the way.

All good things must come to an end, so in the past month I’ve taken on a new role joining our Windows team, where I’m leading a wonderful team of creative, smart people working on PR and storytelling for consumers, commercial customers and application builders.  Today’s event is a great way to mark a new phase in my working life.

If you were attending the session earlier today here are some useful links and resources I referenced:

And don’t forget for all the latest news you can follow Microsoft Citizenship on Twitter: @msftcitizenship.

PS:

I’m also looking forward to attending the UNCC PRSSA Region 7 conference on Saturday.

The intersection of marketing, PR and CSR

I’ve been reading a variety of stories (links below) recently about Marketing, PR and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and the one thing that became very apparent is that there’s a lot of disagreement and perhaps no little confusion about the intersection of Marketing/PR and CSR. In fact I found myself agreeing and disagreeing in equal measure with many of the opinions voiced in these stories.

This post isn’t an attempt to provide a complete view of these issues but I hope it outlines a number of things to consider when you’re thinking about CSR and how it fits with Marketing and PR.

CSR is a strategic business commitment

First off, let’s be really clear. CSR is not a marketing program or a campaign. CSR is a strategic commitment a company makes recognizing its role and responsibilities. You could think of this commitment in two major buckets – and this taxonomy is influenced by my employer’s view of CSR but is no less relevant because of that.

1) Working responsibly – a commitment by an organization to operate within the legal and social regulations as an integrated part of doing business. This encompasses adhering to legal requirements, being a great employer, enforcing strong corporate governance, and taking responsibility for working towards creating a sustainable enterprise.

2) Serving communities – a recognition that companies are made of up real people who live in local communities and that corporations can bring their resources to bear for positive social impact. This includes but is not limited to philanthropy and employee giving.

A CSR commitment requires resources, commitment and transparency. It must permeate the business and it must be both encouraged and enforced. It’s a long term commitment. Don’t make the mistake of dressing up a cause marketing campaign (see below) as “CSR”. It’s a sure fire way to damage your brand, your business and your goodwill.

PR is not CSR and vice versa

I am frankly alarmed when I see people increasingly equating PR and CSR as one. This is a fallacy. PR is about how a company reaches, communicates and informs its audiences from staff, to media, to customers, partners, stockholders and communities. That’s not to say that PR people can’t bring value to CSR. They can. The PR function has an inherent understanding of the perception challenges facing an organization, they can advise and support. When appropriate PR can help organizations communicate to their stakeholders about CSR. But the two aren’t the same. If CSR is done solely for the purpose of PR, it’s not CSR.

Cause marketing is not CSR

Cause marketing is a form of marketing where for profit and nonprofit organizations come together for mutual benefit. For example a company provides a donation to a nonprofit for each order made by a customer. The key thing to remember here is that it’s a type of marketing. It’s not CSR. It can be part of a CSR program, but not the whole.

Philanthropy is not CSR

Presenting a large cardboard check (or cheque) to a local nonprofit is not CSR. It’s philanthropy. As per my outline above, when it’s done effectively it’s part of CSR, but that doesn’t make it CSR. The most effective philanthropy is strategic. It ties back to the organization’s core business strategy. It is focused on creating positive, real, sustained change over time. It’s not a quick, one off check to the local animal refuge.

Organizations should promote their CSR commitment

Many organizations remain reticent about promoting their CSR efforts. Many worry about the potential negative backlash. I don’t agree. Increasingly customers and stakeholders will demand more information about how organizations are being responsible, not less. As long as CSR is a strategic, real, long-term commitment, then organizations shouldn’t be concerned about appropriate communication of that work. If you’re interested in a great introduction to this subject, I’d recommend Kellie McElhaney’s book Just Good Business.

Read on…

Here’s your good deed for today

Although I have always rarely talked about my employer on this blog, I’m always willing to make an exception for a good cause.

Today Microsoft (disclosure for anyone other than my mother who reads this blog: my employer) has expanded the company’s software donations program to give more nonprofits access to technology that can help them do more.

While Microsoft currently donates software to about 40,000 nonprofits a year – that’s only a start – the challenge is making millions of other nonprofits aware that the program exists.

So.

Here’s your good deed for today.

Share this news with your favorite nonprofit and pass it along with a colleague or friend so they can tell their favorite nonprofit.

(You could even Tweet it: RT @msftcitizenship: Microsoft Broadens software donation program to reach more #nonprofits http://bit.ly/q6DJnA #mycause)

Now. Not only have you done your good deed for today, but as a bonus you can enjoy this video on why and how Microsoft donates software to nonprofits!

Branson on CSR and Reputation

Not surprisingly, Richard Branson is always one of the old reliables when it comes to people choosing their ‘most admired business people’. 

It’s not by mistake.  Branson represents one of the most acceptable faces of business.  He’s an entrepreneur, an adventurer, a risk taker, but most of all he’s a great boss and by all accounts a nice person.

He was at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Los Angeles yesterday and I’m always interested in hearing what he has to say.

Two particular parts of his interview were interesting.

His view on how businesses can become a force for good:

Well, I think when you start a business the only thing that really matters is survival. You shouldn’t have to worry about trying to rescue and sort out other people’s lives, just make sure that you can make your business survive. Once you’ve gotten past the survival stage, then I think we can’t in the past people left it up to politicians, and social workers to sort out the problems of the world, and businesses just created jobs and the wealth. I think now, what a lot of good business leaders have realized is that all businesses must become a force for good. And small businesses can be a force for good in their local area, bigger businesses nationally, and even bigger businesses internationally, because enormous wealth can come with being a successful business leader. And, therefore, enormous responsibility goes with that wealth.

At Virgin, you know, we use our entrepreneurial skills to look at some of the seemingly intractable problems in the world, and see if we can tackle them differently than they’ve been tackled. So, conflicts in the world, and there haven’t really been really good conflict organizations going in to resolve conflicts.

His view on the importance of reputation:

Well, your reputation is all you have in life. So, your personal reputation, and the reputation of your brand. And, you know, if you do anything, anything that damages that reputation, you can destroy your company.

Pretty simple and straightforward.

You can read the full transcript here.

Social Media for Good: The Goodness Engine

A couple of months ago, a whole set of very smart people came together at the inaugural social hackathon to help DonorsChoose.org address its ongoing technology and marketing challenges. There were social media luminaries such as Beth Kanter and Chris Brogan as well as representatives from Bing, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, REI, Twitter and WebTrends.

From this event (disclosure: sponsored by Bing and Windows Live Hotmail) a free eBook has been created called the Goodness Engine, which aims to help other nonprofits (and dare I say it for-profits) learn about a whole range of topics from driving online traffic to creating dynamic content and managing online engagement.

Find out more:

Travelling to Net Impact Event in Michigan

I am off to the great state of Michigan for the first time tomorrow to attend and speak at the 2010 Net Impact Conference at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.

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A map of Michigan from Bing Maps (of course)

I’m looking forward to what should be a great event.

I’m speaking on a panel discussing the impact of social media on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The session is being moderated by Nick Aster and will include Justin Higgins from Chevron and Courtland Smith from Angelpoints.

Stop by and say hello if you’re at the conference.

Getting real about Social Media, PR (and CSR)…

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship Conference 2010 in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. There was a great turnout with CSR and PR people from every industry and there were great discussions throughout the three days. Unfortunately the pressures of the day job have delayed this post, but I hope you’ll forgive me.

I had the privilege of participating in two sessions on the emergence of new media. The panels included Dianna O’Neill from Fedex and Jennifer Tower from Ernst & Young and were ably moderated by Ken Frietas from Boston College.

It was great to get insight into how Fedex and Ernst & Young are thinking about social media, but as usual at these events, the real highlight was the lively discussion and Q&A. (You can find a summary of the session by Meghan Baldelli here.)

It became clear to me (again) that there’s a clear a disconnect between the social media high-church and the challenges facing people in the real world. Before exploring some of the themes from the panel I wanted to call out some common sense that’s emerging around the discussion on social media.  First up, Jeremy Pepper’s thoughtful post titled It’s About Why, Not How.

I recommend it.

His central thesis is that there’s a lot of experts online who talk about the tools but a lot less about why a company would use the tools and how they will have a real tangible impact.

The issue for corporations right now is you have a ton of social media speakers – many who have no public relations or marketing backgrounds, but have (for some odd reason) been labeled social media and community geniuses – that come in full guns blazing about how to do social media. That is worthless, and does not help companies. Ask them why, and see if they can talk about any past successes – real successes that point to an agreed upon ROI and results – and then judge if what they are talking about would work for your business.

If you read this blog semi-regularly.  You’ll know this is a subject close to my heart. As someone who monitors Twitter and reads blogs and online commentary it’s a constant source of frustration that there’s too much talk and supposition about social media without any context or understanding of the real world challenges that businesses and individuals face. (Rob Key has also written an interesting post on this subject: Why we need to kill “social media”.)

The real questions are how does social media fit in terms of reaching real organizational goals? How do I deal with internal issues and balancing the resources I need to focus on traditional programs (that remain effective) while somehow integrating social media programs?

I’ve worked in communications for a long time. I am painfully aware of the pressure people are under to deliver against these challenges.  There is far too little discussion of this online and far too much blue sky hypothesizing about the latest widget – with no context, and no reality.

The real world – real people, real challenges

Back to the Boston College conference. The panel sessions I participated in addressed the changes we’re seeing in communication.  They were very well attended and it was great to hear the concerns of people who are working in real companies and trying to achieve actual business objectives.  While some of the areas we discussed were CSR-specific, the majority of the discussion was applicable everywhere.

Here were some of my takeaways:

  • Many people still don’t understand the social media tools and channels.  I think the major reason for this is that people continue to struggle to cope with existing workloads and there’s confusion on how to balance that workload and the resources.
  • People are still struggling how and where social media fits in with all the existing programs and campaigns they are running. Many view it as a separate rather than integrated set of activities.
  • There remains a lot of concern from senior management about the risk of losing control and creating risk by actively participating online.
  • People are challenged with how to mobilize and engage their co-workers around social media.
  • There are questions on how you successfully manage the social media process. This ranges from specific publishing processes to legal and HR issues.
  • Those who see opportunity are confused about how to get their social media programs started.

So here are some high level thoughts:

  • Start with your objectives – When you begin to think about potential social media campaigns, the starting point must be your business and marketing objectives.  Think about how social media can positively support the achievement of those objectives
  • Integrate social media – Integrate social media tools and programs with your traditional marketing and PR programs.  It should not be an isolated or one off activity. If you’re working with a large company, make sure that your social media efforts and properties are aligned and integrated with other efforts taking place at your company.
  • Start small – You don’t need to launch a blog a Twitter feed, a Facebook page all at one time.  Dianna O’Neill recommends a Twitter feed as a good, low-maintenance way to get started. Just remember to set some goals, measure your results and experiment!
  • Less is more – Often every division, department and group wants their own Twitter feed, their own blog etc.  Sometimes it makes sense, but often it doesn’t.  Don’t be left with a large number of underperforming online properties when focusing efforts and resources on a small number would be far more effective.
  • Social media isn’t free –   This is a fallacy, unless you have lots of free labor.  There is a cost and it requires resources.  Think through the implications of kick starting your social media program and make sure you have sufficient resources to sustain it.
  • Control is subjective – The issue of control can often be a difficult one.  Sometimes the issue is a concern about legal implications or regulations.  Sometimes it’s based on management’s fears.  However, the reality is that people are probably already discussing your brand and products online. From a legal standpoint (see no shortcuts below) you must ensure that your social media assets meet all relevant legal requirements.  In terms of addressing management’s fears, start in a controlled manner, use sensible policies and test them.
  • There are no shortcuts – Building successful social media programs takes time and resources.  That’s the reality.  Social media is also subject to the same issues as traditional marketing. This includes legal considerations.  Treat social media as you would any other marketing program or tool.
  • Content is king – Social media helps you to tell stories in new and engaging ways. Sometimes you can share content from elsewhere in the marketing mix, but often you need to think in new ways about how you create content.  Be creative. Be relevant. Add value. Do it.
  • Converse and broadcast – Although some may disagree a lot of social media channels are effectively online broadcast tools.  That’s OK.  But there is also the opportunity to engage people on relevant issues and topics. Fedex’s Dianna O’Neill used a phrase I loved: intimate conversations.  Work on getting your experts engaging online – even in limited ways – make sure that you are adding value, not noise to the conversation.
  • Future proof – As social media continues to evolve there are new services emerging all the time and people are now consuming and connecting across more devices and in more locations that ever before.  Think about the impact of these trends and how you can use different approaches to extend your reach and effectiveness.

 

Should I communicate about our CSR programs?

Finally, one CSR-specific PR issue that comes up again and again is about whether it’s acceptable to promote or communicate around CSR. My personal view is that as long as you have a sustainable, commitment to social responsibility that is aligned with you business, then I believe it is completely acceptable for you to communicate in an appropriate manner. The reality today is that many audiences expect transparency from companies on their commitment to social responsibility, so we shouldn’t be afraid to discuss and communicate how our organizations are looking to help address societal challenges.

What do you think?

Leave a comment below or share your thoughts on Twitter: @tpemurphy.

Update: Thanks to the ever kind David Tebbutt who kindly pointed out a typo – now corrected :-)


Going to the International Corporate Citizenship Conference 2010 in Boston?

I will be travelling to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts from April 11-13 to attend the International Corporate Citizenship Conference 2010  hosted by the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship at the Intercontinental Hotel in Boston.

If you’re planning on attending do let me know.  Rumor has it that they may even allow me to share some grumpy thoughts on CSR and social media. 

It’s only a rumor mind.

 

@tpemurphy


CSR, social media and your self-defending brand

One of the biggest concerns executives voice about social media is the lack of control.  The idea that anyone can comment, share or disagree with you makes people uncomfortable.  Of course the fact that you know people are having these conversations about your brand or product, and that – if you choose  – you can engage with them, is far better than not knowing at all.

As I mentioned previously, Corporate Social Responsibility is increasingly becoming an imperative for every company – big or small. CSR is not about token’ism.  It’s not about throwing a cute photo of a puppy with sore eyes on your website and donating $1,000 to an animal shelter, it’s not about pumping money at a problem.  Effective CSR is about understanding how your business can operate responsibly and what resources you have that can have a beneficial impact on your community and often more importantly help your people to have a positive impact.

There’s a lot of cynicism online.  And that’s one of the reasons many companies often shy away from “publicity” around their CSR efforts.

However, here’s an alternative view.

If you make a sincere commitment to address a real issue using your resources and your expertise, then that is something you shouldn’t shy away from communicating in an appropriate manner.

One of the interesting things that I have noticed recently, is that where it’s clear that a company is making a sincere effort to drive positive change (on any issue) the internet can be a positive environment for debate and discussion.

I am seeing more and more cases where internet citizens are actively addressing cynics and actually defending companies who are doing the right thing. 

This is a development that all communicators should be monitoring. 

There is nothing more effective than individuals standing up for your brand and calling foul on people who are making unfair or illogical criticisms of the work your are doing.

Don’t get me wrong, you will still experience negative sentiment, but if you are committed to do the right thing, then often you will be pleasantly surprised at the support you’ll receive and often from unexpected quarters.

Self-promotion isn’t and shouldn’t be your motivation for implementing corporate responsibility, but it is yet another business benefit and one that will become increasingly valuable as your brand lives and dies online.


Don’t be afraid of talking about Corporate Social Responsibility

Partly in response to my post about the growing importance of appropriate communications on a company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts, the Textifying blog over at Arizona State University (sorry there’s no bio page and the post was written by ‘tburns’ – and I tried to leave a comment but couldn’t) published a post entitled: Socially Responsible Communication Methods.

Among other things, the author expresses their conflict at the idea of an organization communicating or promoting its CSR work:

In a way, the idea of “promoting” the good a company does reminds me of people who only do generous things so they can brag about it later and create the image of a genuinely nice person. This defeats the purpose of giving and destroys the definition of a true “kind soul.”

First off let me say that I am delighted that they wrote this post.  As I mentioned previously there’s far too little discussion on the PR implications of CSR, so it’s great they took the time to share their views.

However, I should also point out that I disagree with their sentiment, and let me explain why.

Every commercial organization, regardless of its location, business or size has a social responsibility.  Why? Because every business, whether directly through its operations or indirectly through its staff is part of the local community and broader society. 

In general, good CSR means aligning corporate responsibility to the organization’s business strategy.  This is important for a number of reasons.  If CSR is aligned, then it can have a positive impact for the business – it will therefore create value and will be sustainable over the long term – that’s how CSR can deliver real measurable impact. 

Today stakeholders; from investors, to customers, employees and investors want to know what companies are doing in the community and society at large. If we can agree that it makes sense to align CSR efforts to the core business, then it becomes a central element of what that business does. That’s why communication is important.

CSR is about more than philanthropy – albeit that’s an important element.  CSR is about being a responsible business.  It’s about good corporate governance, ethics, being a great employer, reducing environmental impact and many other elements. But let’s focus on philanthropy for a moment.  In my experience, the value a company brings to a non-profit organization is three fold.  The first, and most obvious is financial support, but in many cases the expertise and resources a company can bring to bear through a strong partnership is often more important.

Companies can often help nonprofits broaden the reach and impact of their communications – raising awareness and helping them increase their effectiveness. Of course, that communication should be appropriate and transparent, but companies should not be embarrassed to tell people how they are constructively being a responsible citizen. Indeed companies, in my view, should be up front about their commitment to CSR, about how they are measuring their efforts and how they are tracking against their commitments.

There are risks.

We live in a far more transparent world where companies need to be wary of sacrificing goodwill for short term publicity.

But doing well by doing good, is not only accepted as good business practice, it’s becoming an imperative. That’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

Now given that I work in communications for Microsoft’s Corporate Citizenship efforts, you should expect me to be an advocate.  But then I see the incredible work that we and other companies do every day in partnership with nonprofits – work that positively impacts people and communities all over the world.

Communicating a company’s commitment to CSR or Corporate Responsibility or Corporate Citizenship is not only a good thing, it’s a vital thing.

Agree or disagree?

Leave a comment or ping me on Twitter at @tpemurphy.