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?
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.
Building Sustainable Futures: Communication Strategies for Corporate Social Responsibility Change Management, IABC Research Foundation Report, 2013.
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