Corporate social responsibility (CSR) isn’t just a once-a-year opportunity for businesses to step into the shoes of a Good Samaritan—it must be a regular part of your business strategy. Yes, you read that right. CSR has to be a consistent and effective business process that is tethered to your overall brand goals.
Wanting to be a brand that’s socially aware and conscious is great. However, signing hefty checks or promoting every other cause on your business page isn’t the best way to do it. CSR and brand marketing have similar impacts on your audience—it makes them assess your message and its relevance to the current context. With this in mind, it’s important to note that CSR is indeed a great way to give back to the community and highlight important causes that affect your industry, or society as a whole.
This doesn’t take away from the fact that CSR is also a very effective way to gain the trust of your audience, and use your clout to bring attention to a cause your brand believes in. Given this sensitive topic, and how closely CSR is aligned with your brand image and public perception, it’s no surprise that social media plays prominently with the biggest CSR role models—brands that have carried out effective campaigns that have made a difference and added heft to their brand messaging.
While the overall social consciousness of these brands can still be scrutinized, it’s worth taking pointers from them, to understand how to balance responsible practice with making a profit.
Let’s talk about how you can use social media to boost your CSR activities and campaigns on various social networks, and use their native features and functions to spread awareness for your cause, and mobilize your followers into contributing, as well.
But before that here’s a quick overview of all the benefits that social CSR can have on your brand.
Social media CSR checklist for brands
Before we can get into how CSR activities play out on social networks, here’s a quick checklist for brands to help figure out if they’re doing this right.
The campaign is feasible for your business
Let’s get one thing out of the way. Does your business have the bandwidth to carry out a CSR campaign on the internet, or even properly promote it on social media? Do you have the ad spend it may require, and the resources to keep social engagement thriving?
Your business could have the bandwidth to pull off an effective CSR campaign but may find it challenging to take it to digital platforms while footing the marketing expenses that can come with it. So first things first, ensure your marketing budget has sufficient room for promoting your CSR campaign. This may also involve substantial marketing research into the area where you’re contributing and must be something your business can afford to spend on.
Building your CSR strategy around your core competency
The right approach to building your CSR initiative is to look at what your business’s strengths are, not just what your business would like to accomplish. Because the former is going to determine the latter for you. It’s easy to get lost in the web of social media trends (see what we did there?) and just back the causes getting the most traction.
However, that can sometimes backfire on you, if you can’t make a relevant connection between the cause and your brand. So the reasonable first step after determining that your brand has enough bandwidth is to start by picking a cause that plays to the strengths of your business.
Your campaign is relevant to your audience
We cannot stress this point enough—even if your CSR campaign is getting social reach and impressions, it should be something that your followers can relate to, and for that to happen it has to reach the right audience first. You can ensure this by:
i. Picking a cause that speaks to your target demographic – If your followers are largely young urban millennials you can back causes that affect their everyday life, like mental health and community projects.
ii. Picking a cause that affects your overall industry – Your social media followers aren’t always consumer-level stakeholders—they may also be part of the industry that you operate in and could be investors, influencers, or simply followers of events in the space. When you factor this into building your campaign, you’re not only ensuring you gain vanity metrics—likes and shares—but impacting the relevant target audience, who can step up and contribute to the cause or at least be more aware of their choices.
The campaign adds value to your overall business
Giving back can help build responsible narratives around both the cause and your brand. Let’s face it, CSR is a great way to put your best foot forward in a business environment. So with this in mind, ensure that the campaign you build adds value to the cause and the audience, while also creating a positive narrative for your business.
Starting initiatives that are sustainable
Sustainability doesn’t necessarily have to be the theme of your project, but whatever campaign you start must be sustainable—it should be able to run consistently for the estimated time period and have the potential to be scaled up, collaborated on, or carried further into the future.
Incorporating CSR on your social channels
CSR initiatives generally fall under one of these four categories—building awareness, incorporating ethical practices, reinforcing economic responsibility, and encouraging social sustainability. On social media these can play out through different formats, depending on the nature of the network and target demographic on those networks. But here are some of the ways you can incorporate corporate social responsibility practices into your brand’s social channels.
Use your popular platforms as your campaign base
So your brand has a large social following and a regular stream of engagement—great. Did you know that you can fall back on this timeline power to not just aid your CSR initiative but to run the whole show? Here’s a real-life example to explain this better:
Ford India uses its social media channels to run seasonal campaigns, engage with people, and run promotions. Knowing that their content has a dedicated social media following has helped them elevate their CSR game, which keeps pushing people to look at Ford and its overall brand value, and not just as an automotive enterprise.
For instance, their “I pledge to drive safe” campaign was specifically addressed at drivers on Indian roads, where conditions are often dangerous. This campaign’s online version took the form of a pledge that users could take on Facebook, opting for different badges like “Belt-up” or “Reduce fuel,” among many others, to push the narrative of driving safe.
The campaign not only brought safe driving practices back into the online narrative but also positioned Ford as a company that advocates these practices.
Using social media features as your campaign call
Not too long ago Surf Excel—the clothing detergent brand—launched a CSR initiative focused on contributing to the education sector—a situation where the brand picked an issue that lies outside the scope of their product and industry.
And this campaign was simple enough that anyone on social media could participate. For every like on their Facebook page, a direct contribution would be made towards children’s education. This pushed the audience to engage with the brand’s page—which doesn’t necessarily need to be your goal—in order to contribute to the campaign.
Using social media to build awareness
The Vermont-based ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s is known for being socially and ethically responsible—from using fair-trade ingredients in their products, to funding sustainability projects, they’ve engaged in so many community-oriented programs that it was natural that the brand used their social media reach to channel their activities.
So it came as no surprise when they attached their brand to the international climate movement held on September 20th, 2019, putting out the message that they’ll be slowing down production, disrupting business for a day and providing employee transportation for local demonstrations. Take a look:
Making social content an extension of your existing CSR program – Warby Parker
This is the usual strategy used by brands to channel their CSR on social platforms—by simply posting more CSR-related social media content that brings attention to the campaign, while keeping social media only one among several outreach channels. The American eyeglasses company Warby Parker has had an ongoing campaign “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair,” that makes an appearance now and then on their social feeds.
While social media isn’t the center of the campaign’s activity—it aims to donate free eyeglasses to developing countries for every pair that’s purchased—it found a natural outlet on Warby Parker’s usually lively and engaging social channels.
As of the date of this article, the campaign has donated over 5 million pairs of eyeglasses, and this is how Warby Parker announced their milestones on social media:
It’s not always easy to discern what the term “corporate social responsibility” means for your business. As long as the optics of your CSR goal keep the cause you’re vouching for closely at heart—and not merely attaching to an opportunity for brand messaging—then a platform like social media is a great place to take your efforts.