By Marion Dupont
With the dozens – maybe hundreds – of G4-related articles that have been published in the last few months, it’s difficult to write something fresh about the topic. And yet, I think I still haven’t read a single piece highlighting the bridges between G4 and the other major trend that has been shaking up the sustainability reporting world lately: social and online reporting.
Nobody seems to draw the line between publishing a report based on the Global Reporting Initiative’s G4 guidelines and publishing a digital version of such a report online. Is it because companies can only advance one step at a time? Do you feel like you’ll either need to choose between investing time, resources, money and efforts into a beautiful online report that will leverage your audience, or following the new and exciting version of the GRI framework instead?
It’s a shame because online publication and G4 reporting actually do form a great couple, as they both focus on the most important aspect of your corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting: your stakeholders.
By putting materiality at the core of your reporting process, the G4 makes sure your report’s content will focus on what’s important for your stakeholders. By publishing your report online, you will significantly increase your audience, providing incentives to access the information and engage with it. More interesting and relevant content aligned with more open access are two faces of the same coin: a real and meaningful stakeholder engagement process based on comprehensive information and accessibility. One shouldn’t go without the other, unless you are ready to miss out on an incredible opportunity to convince your stakeholders about the impact of CSR on your organization and so, to influence their decision-making through CSR reporting.
As a result, here are the top five reasons you should publish your next G4 report online:
1. More direct engagement and social dialogue
Meetings, phone calls, public events, online polls and, more recently, social media, are so far the most useful tools to engage in dialogue with stakeholders around CSR performances.
According to Cone Communications, 62 percent of global consumers report using social media to engage with companies around social and environmental issues. But all this dialogue is happening outside the report and not inside of it. Corporations should see their reports as an engaging and interactive tool to converse with their stakeholders, and not only as a communication (top-to-bottom) tool to let them know what’s happening.
By making sure your report is online and providing the right features to your stakeholders, they’ll be able to leave public comments, rate your content, share their favorite stories on social networks and especially, provide great feedback about your report and performance. This meaningful engagement will help you adapt your materiality matrix to what they truly think is important and improve your reporting over the years.
2. Improved transparency and trust
In today’s world, consumers, employees and any type of stakeholders who have an internet connection can take screenshots, share comments on social media and give their opinion on anything available online.
Your report is not spared: Conversations are already happening on the 2.0 Web space, debating about your organization’s performance. You can’t avoid them by hiding your CSR report at the back of your corporate website. But on the contrary you will demonstrate transparency and build trust with your stakeholders if you let them engage with your report, share their opinion and spread the word on social media.
As John Friedman (Corporate Responsibility Communications at Sodexo) recently said on Twitter: ”If you worry about what your employees will say about your company on social media, your problem is not social media.” Transparency is a key value of the GRI G4 and can be facilitated by an online publication.
3. Interactive storytelling
Have you ever wondered why most people don’t read sustainability reports? Because they aren’t attractive and engaging enough! People don’t consume pages and pages of text anymore; they need short and fun content to browse on their smartphones and share on their Instagram or Pinterest accounts. Inserting videos or visual infographics in your online report is a much more effective way to broadcast your message. For instance, G4 put the emphasis on describing your value chain which is — let’s admit it — not the most fascinating part of a sustainability report. Try to represent it by using interactive content or maps your readers can play with.
4. Better fit to stakeholders
The other problem with the traditional CSR report is that we all get the same content, whether we’re customers located in the U.S., employees based in Europe or suppliers working in a factory in China. But all the different types of stakeholders are not interested in the same topics, and they don’t have time to go through the entire report to search for the information that targets them.
Effective Web-based publications now play with different levels of information by providing filters according to their targeted stakeholders groups, so that you can access aspects that are material to you in two clicks. Besides, it is becoming easier for stakeholders to understand presented data by changing their units, scopes or years using interactive charts.
5. A clearer picture of your audience
With tools like Google Analytics, it’s easy to know how many people accessed your online report, read it or shared it on social networks. You’ll also be able to know where they’re coming from and how long they viewed each page of your report. It will become a lot easier to know the stories that captivate them the most, or the part that didn’t interest them, to keep improving your reporting storytelling.
Companies now have the opportunity to increase the impact of reporting more than ever by going online. Digital reporting will not change the mind of corporations that don’t want to be transparent or are not ready to play the game. Change takes time, it has always done. However, whether you’re a first-timer or an experienced reporter, keep in mind that providing new incentives and tools to produce better reports will not only increase your performance and reputation, but also put your stakeholders back at the center of your reporting process.
Marion Dupont is the Marketing Manager of Wizness and helps companies create and publish interactive CSR reports online. She tweets @Wiznessplatform.