The role of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in management is becoming more central than ever before, as is evident from the fact that so far more than 1500 companies worldwide have published their CSR reports. One of the key aspects of good CSR practices involves effective and transparent communication channels with internal and external stakeholders. This process is a key to identify issues of concerns that the company should address and after these have been addressed, to inform about the ensuing performance. Consequently, there is an increased demand for establishing an appropriate communication strategy that helps identify proper communication tools and confirms that the right information is collected and disseminated. Studies have shown that despite this growing importance of CSR communication, organizations still have to learn how to communicate their CSR. The purpose of this article is to present some key areas that help create a workable model for communicating CSR inside and outside an organization.
Perhaps the biggest challenge that companies face in communicating CSR is to be able to structure the message about the significance of CSR for the company. Externally, the other challenge is justifying, explaining and convincing different stakeholders and interest groups why certain CSR issues are logical and necessary to be undertaken by the company.
The source of information is another key challenge. What and how the stakeholders get their information remain fundamental issues that need to be addressed. TV, internet, CSR reports, magazines and newspapers are most often the source of information. Furthermore, do the reporters or columnists have the necessary CSR background to comment on ethical practices? The answer remains unknown!
It is important to classify the timing of the dialogue into three phases; beginning, midpoint and culmination. The communication techniques, channels and content at all three stages will vary significantly. At the beginning, two essential objectives should be achieved. Firstly, to educate the stakeholder about CSR and secondly, to identify the CSR issues that should be addressed. The midpoint communication revolves around updating the stakeholders on the progress of the CSR process, discussing the status of the performance indicators, and to address any challenges and formulating action plans if necessary. At the culmination, the communication is about celebrating the achievements and owning up to any shortcomings.
The company should realize that the type of audience dictates the direction the communication model takes. The audience/ stakeholder for every organization are unique and represent their own unique issues and concerns. A mining company for example will have to worry about the communities being uprooted as a result of the discovery whereas a hospital has to worry about the patients and the communities surrounding the hospital. The trick is to have a hand on pulse of the stakeholder through an effective engagement mechanism and to feed the findings of the engagement into the structure of the CSR communication model.
In general, the stakeholders often determine the content of the CSR message. Investors and owners are more interested about the cost, revenues, and the financial implication of adopting CSR principle, thus their messages should contains more statistical information. Regulators and policy makers need to be convinced about the necessity of creating new policies and regulations, and regarding industry wide CSR practices. Consequently, their message should contain the benefits that community will gain by applying the ethical principles and how the CSR contributes to the welfare of the community at large.
CSR community messaging serves two main purposes; the contribution the company is making to community wellbeing and the importance of such practices. The later ensures that the company celebrates its CSR victories and former is meant to tap onto community power to encourage companies to do better. Similarly, social organizations need to be aware about the difference between philanthropic activities and CSR and their messaging will reflect that.
The CSR messaging to internal stakeholders also needs to be customized at each management level. While at the executive level, the message should be more strategic in nature; that for mid management level should be more about the implementation aspect of CSR. CSR message at the lower management level should be emphasize the benefits of adopting CSR practice in their daily works and how it can positively affect their work environment and their future.
A successful and holistic CSR communication plan should make use of as many channels as possible to enhance the reach of its message. Whether it is through representation on external committees or through a carefully planned social media presence, utilization of multiple channels to position your CSR message is paramount for the success of your CSR program. A page on your corporate website dedicated to your concept of CSR goes a long way in cultivating the knowledge and understanding of your CSR stance among stakeholders. The language should be culturally sensitive and the content a representation of the Company’s unique brand of CSR. One on One meeting with key stakeholders is also a great way not only to cultivate trust but also to get your message across. This may seem tedious but planned in a careful and periodic manner takes much less effort and gives much better results than dinner parties with 200 people. Lastly, a CSR report that tracks the progress of the company on key CSR issues as well as on operational aspects that have a social dimension. A well-presented CSR report is considered the ultimate evidence of a company’s commitment to CSR and of its pledge to transparent and inclusive communication.