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.

4 thoughts on “CSR, social media and your self-defending brand

  1. This is a very interesting point of view and I agree. If a company is really committed in doing and supporting the right thing it can vouch for it. And the more the organisation is convicted by its CSR programme the more followers it will persuade.

    But on the other side I can understand the firms who are shy to engage seriously in CSR projects. CSR projects are not easy to evaluate: First of all is the question, what kind of project and how it is related to the firm´s objectives. If there is no connection to the organisation´s aims it may be difficult for customers to understand the interest of the company to support the project.

    Secondly it is difficult to evaluate fairly a specific CSR project. For example if a company spends a lot of money, makes it the programme better? Maybe only the success of the project should indicate if the company did well. Further CSR has always an aftertaste of washing hands clean; the more money is invested in a project the more a firm has to hide?

    An answer to these questions could be your idea: communication! If companies do not hide their projects but make them public and transparent, negative critics won´t have too much chance, as long as the company does not make a big show off!

  2. Hi Mali,

    Thanks for your comment, I agree. There’s no easy answer, however if a company makes a sincere commitment and delivers (as well as it can) on that commitment in a transparent way, then that is a good thing and companies shouldn’t be afraid to communicate that in an appropriate manner.

    Of course we are dealing in general terms and there is never an easy answer!


  3. Thanks so much for this insightful post. My father and I have had few rather heated conversations about the topic of social media and the uncertainty of it all. My father is the CEO of a fortune 500 company specializing in 401k plans and he is unsure if the people he targets will utilize tools like twitter or facebook. His other argument is that, right now there is no conversation being had about his company through social media, which means nothing bad is being said. He thinks if he jumps on the social media that negative comments might begin to emerge through this avenue. I am with you in that you need to hear what your customer has to say but he thinks it might be a wasted effort in the insurance field. What would you say to him?

  4. Hi Meghan,

    This is a GREAT question and it’s not an easy one to answer without a lot more information and understanding but here’s some thoughts.

    Firstly I am a BIG advocate of people keeping social media efforts focused on their business objectives. Too often people go off on “skunk-works” projects that don’t roll-up to what the business is trying to achieve whether that’s sales, marketing or corporate.

    I would be amazed if no one is talking about their business online, I’d advocate they do a little digging to find out – both about their business and their competitiors.

    I would start with the business objectives and secondly start with a clear focus on what the positive outcome of online outreach would be.

    Social Media isn’t, contrary to popular opinion, cheap or free. You need people and people are often the most expensive asset for a company. Your father is right to observe that one of the risks is that people will start discussing his brand, but it’s possible people are already doing this online and offline and I’ve yet to meet a company that didn’t want more insight or connections with their audience(s).

    I don’t advocate “jumping” on social media for the sake of it. Social Media requires a commitment of time and resources. However to just ignore or dismiss the online medium (because it’s not just about Twitter and Facebook, it’s about web sites, blogs etc) seems ill-advised at best.

    I suggest your father go and talk with his PR and Marketing teams to get an understanding of the programs they have underway and what they are seeing online – both for their business and their competitors.


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