Seize Corporate Social “Opportunity”

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Employee and Consumer sentiment is running ahead of what current CSR models are designed to deliver. Now is the time to innovate, not iterate. There’s a huge market of talent and customers looking for companies of all sizes to step up.

How Compelling Is “Responsibility” After All?

Didn’t we hear that term constantly as we grew up? “You need to take responsibility.” “You’re responsible for your actions.” And, it was often met with an eye roll or other form of begrudging acceptance. Companies seem to be following a similar path. You can almost see the progression:

1st Generation – “We’re big and successful. Let’s be sure to do something nice for the community,” says Business.

2nd Generation – “Let’s pick some focus areas and build campaigns around them,” says Business.

3rd Generation – “Hey, Business, we’re tired of bolt-on, do-goodery campaigns. We are already involved stakeholders in our communities. If you’d listen, we could partner together to make a real difference,” says today’s talent and customers.

Skeptical? Look at the research from any major marketing & research firm. You’ll find an overwhelming majority, in the 70-90% range, feel companies should be doing more in the community. Yet, companies already spend nearly $20 billion a year in CSR, corporate philanthropy, and cause marketing. That’s a lot of money! But, it pales in comparison to the $230 billion individuals give annually.

Do you see the significance? The people companies employ and sell to give 10x more than companies do. People already care and vote with their dollars to try to make a difference. How might companies get behind this existing advocacy vs. top-down efforts that try to drum up interest?

The Challenge Is Directional

The major shift to take place is business has to stop telling, and start listening. Right now, there’s too much “corporate” and not enough “social.” Everybody cares about something. They’re just so rarely asked what it is. How much more effective might CSR efforts be if companies developed systems to listen first, gain insight from the lives they touch, then communicate and act?

This is where the sentiment of Millennial employees and customers already lies. CSR for a slick annual report or revolving campaigns intended to gain marketing impressions will not cut it. They’re way more advanced in their thinking than to congratulate a company for that effort.

It will take some courage for companies to allow room in their normal command & control messaging efforts, but a quick look at social media and emerging platforms will reveal less control in that arena already. Companies can start by listening to the voice of their existing social & environmental advocates, i.e. their own employees. Listening here will win engagement internally, and as the CSR expressions they shape go external, talent will notice and want to work there, customers will notice and want to express their shared values through supportive purchasing. It’s a reinforcing cycle that’s welcome as CSR becomes more embedded operationally.

Corporate Social Opportunity (CSO) is out there. Keep pushing CSR pros. The desire of major stakeholders is there. The models you build to meet that desire come next.

This post originally appeared on CSRwire.

Posted on April 13, 2015 in CSR, Employee Engagement

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