Ideas for Leaders #207

How to Communicate CSR Online to Stakeholders

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Key Concept

The online communication models used by organizations to inform on their CSR activity can impact negatively on the way they are perceived by stakeholders. How can they try to overcome such obstacles and create a format for the future that engages successfully with their audience?

Idea Summary

The way companies inform and report on their CSR programs has evolved in recent years, with online channels either complementing or supplanting more traditional offline methods of communication. Blogs, social media, and company websites all come into play, but how successful are companies at actively engaging and interacting with their stakeholders?

Recent research outlines the issues with online CSR communication and suggests ways in which companies can establish a better dialogue with stakeholders. A typical mistake, according to Professor Laura Illia (one of the co-authors of the research) is that organizations are simply using the corporate website as another form of brochure, transmitting information about what they are doing but stopping at that. “Don’t just tell them how good you are”, she advises. The risk here is a marketing one, whereby audiences can become sceptical, assuming the company is into CSR for promotional reasons only, it simply wants to be seen to be doing the right thing.

Dialogue, as opposed to transmitting information, can play a more pivotal role in implementing successful CSR initiatives and projects because it allows an organization to gain credibility, it fosters transparency, and it can win over stakeholders’ trust.

But beware of the risks – by entering into dialogue with your audience, you open up the possibility of unexpected developments. A disgruntled stakeholder group may not agree with one of your CSR projects, for example, and you need to have a plan to counter any objections.

One answer is to open up a dialogue practice for learning and consensus, to avoid the perception that your company has a hidden agenda. Professor Illia explains: “Companies need to listen, to invite views that they might act upon, recommendations that they can learn from. The aim should be to reach consensus with their stakeholders, instead of simply informing them. There is great potential if they change their attitude to CSR communication and engage in dialogue, as this can really help direct the future of their CSR programs.” 

Methodology: The study analysed the practice of 95 leading corporations worldwide. It looked at the engagement and communication needs of a number of stakeholders, including employees, analysts, public administration, experts, NGOs, clients, media, suppliers, and students.

Business Application

  1. Abandon the transmission model of communication, and start co-creating your CSR with stakeholders
  2. Adopt a dialogue practice of CSR communication that will form a knowledge centre for your organization and create consensus between you and your stakeholders
  3. Who are your stakeholders and how do they want to be communicated to online? Stakeholders have common needs: they all agree that interacting online needs to facilitate feedback and that it must inform them about how to get involved if they desire. But there are different levels of interest for online interaction among different stakeholder groups. A journalist or investment analyst for example, is less likely to dialogue online, using the online channels for gathering information instead. Employees or customers, on the other hand, are keen to seek interaction with companies about their online CSR offering.
  4. Customize your online CSR communication – make it simple and credible for each stakeholder group. The study highlights various online CSR communication tools that leaders can use to satisfy the needs of some or all of their organization’s different stakeholder groups. For example, a banking institution may decide to have its CSR website one click from its online banking page – to improve communication with a single stakeholder group, namely, its customers. In the same vein, publishing information on how to get involved in a project might be of interest to another single stakeholder group, namely employees.Conversely, providing financial information about how much money/time the company is spending/investing in projects is likely to appeal to all stakeholder groups, from analysts to the media to employees, as it gives greater corporate transparency. Likewise, providing audiovisual content depicting the actual CSR activity, including testimonials from both beneficiaries and volunteers (i.e. employees), is also likely to appeal to all stakeholder groups.
  5. Become a good listener: Asking stakeholders for views and opinions about what projects you should be allocating resources to can help define your CSR strategy. And asking more esoteric questions (‘Where does CSR go from here’, ‘What future role can CSR play in our business sector’ etc) can help define your future direction and output.
  6. Create alternative platforms for engagement, possibly run and moderated by external organizations. This can be particularly useful for CSR programs that require consensus building, for example, with your local community.
  7. Allocate real resources to improving your online engagement with stakeholders: Communicating your CSR programs online is an ongoing process that needs constant revision and supervision. Although many organizations are making efforts to create effective dialogue, this is a technically complicated area, and requires expert staff to manage the knowledge that is created between companies and stakeholders. Spend time and money on finding the right people to run the system, monitor it and manage it. 
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Authors

Institutions

Source

Idea conceived

  • August 2013

Idea posted

  • September 2013

DOI number

10.13007/207

Subject

References

Building Sustainable Futures: Communication Strategies for Corporate Social Responsibility Change Management, IABC Research Foundation Report, 2013.
For more information about this report, please contact info@iedp.com.

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