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.
This is an eye-opener, as it is now clear there is a way to communicate a client's CSR initiatives to a meaningful audience.
"Forget about the destination website."
At your own peril...
I like the quote " A paradigm shift has occurred, and we have evolved into new vehicles that embrace social media and technology."
The true challenge is to remain focused on adding value and not becoming "marketing tools" ourselves as I discuss in my blog post http://nosmokeandmirrors.wordpress.com/2009/10/04/entrepreneur-best-practices-13-hire-strategic-partners-not-marketing-tools/
Mark Allen Roberts
I note, Greg, that neither "advertising" nor "advertiser" appear anywhere in your piece. Your lofty ideals notwithstanding, someone has to pick up the tab, which means its all about the destination as Kevin correctly asserts below.
In fact, as David Ogilvy often said, the best PR is achieved through advertising.
Hi there Greg,
Could not agree more. I would encourage your readers to check out the new study that the James Irvine Foundation just released entitled "Convergence: How Five Trends Will Reshape the Social Sector." While the report is primarily written to help non-profits understand the dramatically shifting landscape for social activism, the key findings about Gen Y attitudes, technology and other factors are highly relevant to Web 2.0 values engagement strategies for companies that possess a deep sense of social purpose at the core of their business strategy.
We are fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Timberland this past year to launch Earthkeeper Heroes (changents.com/earthkeepers) - a "movement" that is led bottom-up by passionate eco Change Agents whose solutions and actions are aimed at solving major environmental challenges facing the planet.
To your point, key to executing this program for Timberland was our ability to package and insert powerful story content that originates in the Timberland area of the Changents site into conversations across the Web.
Great article and I could not agree more. As consumers demand more from brands, companies need to engage in the conversation about what they're doing to address social issues. Companies have the strategic interest and untapped resources to help address many issues we face today. Most are comprised of good people and do many great things, but don't do enough to tell their story.
Shouting from the roof tops to get the word out doesn't cut it. Top down corporate communication is not an authentic means of conversation with a person. Social Media provides a unique opportunity for companies to get engaged with people who care about the issues and join the discussion, because it's happening whether they're involved or not.