One of the biggest focuses for public companies in the New Year is improving their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in terms of tailored goals, visibility, reporting, and more. The Ethical Corporation recently released a report in which they gathered research from 948 CSR professionals from around the globe on their thoughts of the state of their profession as it moves into 2017. We analyzed their research, as well as our own findings from what was most crucial for our clients this year, and developed these 6 must-know CSR trends for public companies in 2017.
1. CSR is more mainstream, which means more competition
A few years back, it was enough for public companies to have a fairly comprehensive Corporate Social Responsibility section on their website, with a simple PDF presentation and a few images of how they took into consideration the environment, communities, and their social impact. A vague understanding of social impact is no longer enough to stand out amongst the top public companies with the best CSR reputations. Taking action against climate change, contributing to social justice movements, and standing firm in founding principles are trends in themselves for big companies, and have become not just acceptable, but expected. With more companies understanding the value CSR can bring to both their public image and their stakeholders, it’s getting harder to make a message stand out in a sea of ‘do-gooding’. The Bmeaningful Blog writes, “Breaking through the clutter of messaging and advertising will be a challenge but we see tremendous opportunity for professionals who can authentically tell their companies’ cause story”.
2. CSR content will become even more personalized
Focus on CSR goals that make sense for your company and will garner the most trust from your primary stakeholders. As we talk about in our report entitled, What is CSR and Why Your Website Will Tell Your Story, “A trap that many companies fall into is thinking that CSR is only about giving back to the environment…CSR can also focus on efforts with local communities and interactions with your own consumers and what matters to them”. Building investor trust means tailoring content to their main concerns, while also ensuring you’re staying true to your company’s story and goals. If you’ve published multiple CSR success stories to a company newsletter, one focusing on community impact and one focusing on social change, you can serve different content to different investors based on what they most care about. As we discuss in our article about Digital Marketing Trends and Predictions for 2017, investors are looking for more personalized content. This includes what CSR stories you should be promoting.
3. Showcase CSR efforts through video and animation
Perhaps the biggest trend we see each year in the digital marketing world is that the online attention span of consumers is shrinking astronomically. We are so used to getting the information we want online right away, in bite-sized pieces. The same concept applies with investors. Your investors won’t have the time to read a 15 page PDF report on how your latest CSR measure impacted a community and benefited your company. Break down the CSR successes of the past year with videos, data visualizations, or animations on your website. Even more important: make your reporting shareable. Short videos illustrating your impact as a company are the perfect way to get some brand differentiation and easily circulate your message. TELUS’ 2015 Sustainability Report is a great example of how a company can mix text, bold images, and data visualization to highlight impact.
4. Align your CSR goals with those at the top
Ethical Corporation’s report states that “Only 25% of CSR executives [surveyed] stated their CFO is absolutely convinced of the value of the CSR report”. This is a problem. If your company’s CEO, CFO, and more aren’t aware of the CSR goals for the coming year, or don’t see value in spending more time, energy, and money on CSR initiatives or CSR reporting, your company will come across as disjointed and not united in your social message. Ensure that environmental impact, social justice, and community service goals aren’t simply dreamt and executed within one department. The whole company, from the top to the bottom, should understand the importance of what you’re doing and how it relates to your vision and end goals.
5. Make CSR presentations available on every platform
We spoke above about translating your CSR initiatives to video and animation, but it’s equally important to make sure what you’re putting out there can be accessed by anyone who wants to see what your company is up to. 2017 will see even more people disregard their desktops for a mobile phone, so make sure every downloadable CSR presentation, testimonial video, customer story, and website link are available by a smartphone or tablet browser.
6. Don’t just report, relate back
Don’t focus all your CSR energy on reporting. Ethical Corporation’s report says, “60% of respondents agreed that too much time is being spent on the reporting process”. Investors want to see how CSR initiatives affected the numbers, but that doesn’t mean you can pull a ‘number dump’ and be done with it. Make sure you’re not just reporting the numbers or you’ll create a disconnect between your company and the lives you actually impacted. So this year, think about other ways to illustrate the impact you’ve made. Include more employee testimonials, customer success stories, environmental impact studies, or ‘Message from the CEO’ videos. Mixing up how you deliver CSR good news makes sure investors, as well as your target audiences, don’t get number fatigue.
Conclusion: Don’t choose a CSR focus based on what’s trending
Ironically, even though this article is all about CSR trends, make sure you’re not shifting your CSR strategy each year based on what’s trending. Although many big companies have jumped at the chance to show their support for social change in the past few years, that doesn’t mean you have to organize something similar for your company if a big social justice push doesn’t match your short or long term goals. As long as everyone is working towards your company vision, you should be okay.
For a comprehensive look at ways to improve your CSR on your website, as well as some great examples of public companies with great CSR reporting, download our guide below!