Communication bridges the CSR Words vs Actions gap

Communications may be the key to understanding and developing the relationship between companies and consumers when it comes to CSR.

The Cone Shared Responsibility Survey that was released a few weeks ago presents some interesting data. To varying degrees, 65% of Americans believe that companies should be active regarding environmental and social issues. And in large numbers, consumers hold companies responsible for a wide range of issues including everything from alleviating poverty to ensuring that products are produced safely and in an environmentally responsible manner. So, it’s clear that at least as a matter of principle, consumers care about CSR.

But what about the practice? Well, here it’s not so clear. Consumers did indicate that if a company incorporated their ideas (presumably about social/environmental responsibility), over 50% of them would recommend the company, 54% would be more loyal toward it and 61% would be more likely to buy its products and services. But when asked what initiatives they would adopt to influence corporate social/environmental practices, less than half (44%) said they would buy or boycott a company’s product or services.

There seems to be a great divide between words and actions here. The truth is that while there is abundant data on consumers’ buying intentions relative to a company’s CSR platform, we don’t know that much about whether that translates into action

Recent reports from the American south might provide an answer. Local news stories are indicating that some BP stations are selling 500 fewer gallons per day. That’s certainly a result of the Gulf oil spill and consumers’ perception about the company’s environmental irresponsibility. But that may just be an extreme example based on a sensational event.

The Cone study may provide some insight. While consumers indicate they want to be informed about companies’ CSR performance and can even suggest the ways in which they would like that to be done (advertising, in-store, social media), they are, at best, confused by the messages they are receiving. And, in fact, they are very cynical. Fully 87% of respondents said that companies share positive information about their efforts but withhold negative information. 67% said they are confused about the messages companies use to talk about their social and environmental efforts.

It seems reasonable to me that if consumers don’t feel they can trust the information they have regarding companies’ CSR activity, they aren’t going to take action. Let’s not doubt whether CSR is a source of competitive advantage. Let’s do a better job of communicating.

Passion Points:

  • Ensure that your company’s social and environmental activities are effectively communicated through a variety of channels
  • Use social media tools to monitor what consumers are saying about your company
  • Be consistent. Ensure that what you say about your CSR activity is the same across all channels
  • Be transparent. Tell consumers about what you have done but also about what is yet to be done.
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