Kendall Knight, Employer PR Consultant at PR in HR considers the best ways for employers to leverage their CSR activity

“Creating a strong business and building a better world are not conflicting goals – they are both essential ingredients for long term success”.

– Bill Ford, Executive Chairman, Ford Motor Company

Of course, it’s true, good corporate social responsibility (CSR) can do a great deal for positively evolving workplace practices whilst also supporting the wider community – and in turn these actions can improve your company’s reputation.

But when it comes to publicising your activity, finding a careful balance between promoting company image and supporting community goals is key. If activities aren’t communicated the right way, CSR promotion can come across as:

  1. Self-indulgent (it can appear as boasting about a company’s good deeds, which inherently undermines the idea that it’s for a worthy cause and suggests it may only be about boosting company image).

  2. A sales pitch (you don’t want your good deeds to feel as though they’re done purely for publicity and part of a sales process).

So, though the balancing act is delicate, there certainly is balance to be had. If you want to successfully promote your CSR programme without feeling like it’s falling flat, it all comes down to a few key factors…

  • The foundations of your CSR

  • Where does your promotion come from?

  • Perfecting the angle of your CSR story

1. The Foundations of your CSR

Demonstrating the real reasons behind your CSR activity is key to promotional activity that shows your work off in a brilliant light. There are several reasons why your company might have embarked on its CSR programmes; these include:

  • Seeing a real need for change in a social/environmental/charitable issue that your organisation can support

  • Wanting to change the way the organisation runs (e.g by switching to eco-friendly suppliers, promoting certain values amongst employees, supporting profits for listed company status, for example.)

  • A mixture of the previous two motivations, PLUS the desire to improve your company’s reputation.

Whilst the latter is often a common cause behind CSR activities, what’s crucial is that a bid to improve a company’s reputation doesn’t outweigh strong, positive intent.

After all, compassion and authenticity can be key to good CSR stories. Those that bandwagon onto trending problems in the hopes of scoring some good publicity may be identified for their hollow support. Think companies that have been championing diversity and inclusion for years, and then those who jumped to support Black Lives Matter but didn’t demonstrate any real effort for change.

That’s why promoting proactive rather than reactive CSR is often helpful. Why? Because studies show that proactive CSR is more likely to be viewed as inherently value-driven and altruistic rather than reactive CSR which can be perceived as jumping on a current trend.

So, to summarise, good CSR promotion always starts with authenticity, sincerity, and substance. And with these foundations, you’ll be far more likely to present a genuine and important CSR campaign that benefits more than your company.

2. Where does your Promotion come from?

The source of your CSR promotion can do a great deal for the reach and perception of your organisation’s efforts. So who promotes your CSR can really impact the outcomes of your campaign.

If this is the case, who should promote it?

A journalist/media source

Largely, people trust information about companies that comes from the media. In fact, having a journalist mention your organisation is the second biggest factor that leads to consumer trust in a brand (second only to having a personal experience with a brand).

So why is media coverage so important? Because journalists are not paid to write about your CSR activity which means if they feature your story, they are motivated by genuine opinions or beliefs surrounding your organisation and CSR. This helps readers to be more likely to believe the goodwill and efforts of your campaign – more so than if your organisation is promoting it as there will always be some bias at play here.

A company employee

When an employee promotes your CSR activity (say, for example, by posting about it on social media) it demonstrates your workforce’s real commitment to a cause and suggests the campaign is having positive impacts on employee ethos, company culture and workforce values. Evidently, it perfectly demonstrates your company’s genuine support for a cause.

Plus, with social media, even if only a few employees promote the actions, it can reach a whole heap of new people – so employee promotion has both sincere and far reaching effects – hence why social media strategies should play a large part of CSR promotion.

Industry influencers

57% of marketers state that influencer marketing outperforms their brand’s own content. This is because people are far more likely to believe messages that come from respected industry experts. Therefore, if you can get an industry influencer to talk about your CSR actions, then it can add a lot of credibility to your campaign.

Not only this, but some industry influencers have blogs or social media followings of thousands, meaning influencer marketing can do a great deal to increase your reach.

Your organisation

Of course, it’s also crucial that your own organisation puts a strategy in place to promote your CSR, whether that be through social media or content marketing. A constant reiteration of your efforts is needed to demonstrate your genuine commitment and to consistently remind people of the issues at hand.

3. Perfecting the Angle of your CSR Story

All company marketing strategies centre around a great product or brand story. The same goes when marketing CSR campaigns: the story and it’s angles are key.

However, the secret to a good CSR story is that it can’t be all about you. You have to focus on the issues at hand.

  • What are the problems?

  • Why is this a problem?

  • Who/What does it affect?

  • What can be done to help?

Firstly, focusing on the issues demonstrates your care and compassion for a cause as well as your expertise on the matter, enabling you to position yourself as authorities on the subject. Doing this also highlights the problems at hand as something that others should also care for.

Adding your company solutions and efforts should be a secondary part to the story. It’s important to inform on this, but you mustn’t only talk about yourselves as this is likely to lead you down the slippery slope of pure self-promotion.

As well as this, it’s essential to play to the media’s interests and needs. The media is likely to focus more about trending problems rather than positive brand stories – the latter are less likely to grab attention of their audiences. Therefore, if you want CSR news coverage, use an angle that focuses on issues and then aims to educate.

By Lisa Baker, Senior Editor

Senior Editor Lisa Baker is the owner of Need to See it Publishing Group, providing contract news for business and news sites across the UK. Lisa is an experienced HR writer and commentator, editing HR publications for more than 5 years.