28 March, 2011
In today’s business world, it is imperative that directors and senior executives understand the communication challenges of a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program as well as the sustainability activities that make up the program, The Conference Board said in a report published today.
What Board Members Should Know About Communicating CSR — the most recent installment in The Conference Board Director Notes series — discusses what to communicate (i.e., message content), where to communicate (i.e., message channel) as well as the major factors (internal and external to the organization) that impact the effectiveness of CSR communications.
“Needless to say, the business returns to CSR are contingent on the stakeholders’ awareness of what a company actually does in this field. However, research shows that awareness of a company’s CSR activities among its external stakeholders (including its consumers) or even its internal stakeholders (its employees) is typically low. This represents a major stumbling block in the company’s quest to reap strategic benefits from a social responsibility program,” says C.B. Bhattacharya, co-author of the report for The Conference Board. Bhattacharya is the E.ON Chair Professor in Corporate Responsibility and Associate Dean of International Relations at ESMT, the European School of Management and Technology in Berlin, Germany. Other authors include Shuili Du of Simmons College’s School of Management and Sankar Sen of Baruch College’s Zicklin School of Business.
“Corporate communication is a potent tool, and where used inadequately, it can backfire and possibly hurt the company’s reputation and its ability to pursue its business strategy,” adds Matteo Tonello, Research Director of Corporate Leadership at The Conference Board, and Director of the Directors Notes series. “When it comes to CSR activities, in particular, an ill-designed communication campaign can raise doubts about the company’s real motives, its true commitment to sustainability, and the coherence of those activities with the core business. This is why The Conference Board encourages the board to be more involved, and avoid dismissing CSR communication as a mere marketing concern.”
The report includes the following recommendations on how corporate directors can oversee the design and implementation of effective CSR communication strategies.
1. Seek CSR activities that fit into the business strategy
Before deciding to allocate resources on a certain CSR activity, the company should fully evaluate how the activity fits within the business strategy as well as the ability of stakeholders to naturally perceive such congruence.
2. Emphasize CSR commitment and impact to foster consumer advocacy
Any CSR communication strategy should adequately emphasize and document the long-term commitment by the company and the concrete impact of its CSR activities.
3. Seek credibility through the support of independent, external communication sources
The less controllable the communicator is from the company’s perspective, the more credible the CSR message is to the stakeholders.
4. Encourage employee and consumer word-of-mouth
A CSR communication strategy should strive for various forms of stakeholder engagement. Employees, in particular, through their social ties, may have a wide reach among other groups of interest in the company.
5. Select social initiatives with high-issue support
Companies should monitor what their key stakeholders consider as priority issues, and undertake those initiatives with high issue support.
6. Be mindful of stakeholder perception of business industry
The effects of CSR communication may also be moderated by the reputation of the industry in which a company operates.
Source: What Board Members Should Know About Communicating CSR
Director Notes, Volume 3, No. 6, March 2011
The Conference Board
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