During the past year, at least three major events have influenced how communications relate to CSR:
1) The new administration in Washington is focused on volunteerism, green-collar jobs, alternative energy and other CSR issues.
2) Bernie Madoff and the "collapse" of Wall Street spotlighted (once again) the need for greater transparency and corporate governance.
3) Consumers are demanding information about what the companies from which we buy our goods and services are doing to have a positive impact on society, improve the environment, and in general "save the world." Companies are finally starting to be held accountable and responsible for the impact and influence they can have to affect change, and they realize the need to communicate it. From a media and PR perspective, this presents both opportunities and challenges.
Any company can issue a press release talking about all the good they're doing, and consequently greenwashing -- and a lack of authenticity has become almost epidemic. It seems every brand wants to capture the green consumer.
The media challenge: To communicate effectively in ways that a growing, "green-focused" audience, consisting of varied demographics, is responsive to and can trust. Authenticity must absolutely be obvious. The age-old, traditional press release isn't what it used to be. Yes, there's still a place for it in modern communications, but it's become widely accepted that its impact is diminished.
Enter blogs and bloggers, videos, podcasts, and various commentaries ... all new and different ways to reach an audience no longer receptive to traditional methods such as press releases. Combine this with issues that people are passionate about, that affect their lives and their children's lives, such as corporate responsibility and sustainability ... and that's the mix that must be communicated. To address that, successful organizations have begun to realize that the value of delivering their messages, consistently in all different media formats, engages a passionate audience.
A paradigm shift has occurred, and we have evolved into new vehicles that embrace social media and technology. Leading organizations have finally realized that the idea of dragging viewers to a Web site to read carefully formulated, single point-of-view, "we really don't mean to engage with you on this" pronouncements is over.
The obvious answer, as how to reach and influence the most people around a topic or issue, (get the news out, if you will) is to engage them using a media format to which they are most receptive. So, give it to them. And, do so where they're already spending Web time; online communities, social networks, video channels, iTunes, blog sites and so on.
Forget about the destination Web site. Game over. Every day there are communities of individuals organizing around issues they are passionate about, hungry for information and knowledge about these issues. Whether it's corporate responsibility, socially responsible investing, human rights, fair trade, the environment or transparency, people have a greater opportunity to engage on each of these issues through new media.
As media professionals, we must help our clients reach and engage with these communities, where they live. And we need to do this using every media format at our disposal to influence and be influenced by the professionals, the consumers and the media points that interact with their brands.
When it comes to issues as important as CSR and green business, leveraging new media to effect change is a must.