By Mark Camilleri, PhD
Companies deal with different stakeholders’ opinions, attitudes and perceptions about their behavior. Often they need to strike a balance in satisfying numerous stakeholders’ expectations.
Of course, businesses can’t please everyone. Yet, they should try to engage in fruitful and collaborative working relationships with their external stakeholders, as dialogue often leads to improvements in mutual trust and understanding. Continuous communication also translates into benefits for a company's reputation, brand image, customer loyalty and investor confidence.
Companies cannot afford to overstate or misrepresent their corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. Although they often manage to control their internal communication paths, it is much harder to control external media. As a result, it has never been more necessary to turn stakeholders into potential advocates for both the cause and the company. This can happen if CSR initiatives are a good fit for the company's mission and vision. It is advisable that CSR communications reflect the ethos of the practicing organizations. Therefore, the intentions of CSR (and sustainability) reporting should be clear, with specific and relevant information featuring the company’s credentials -- and how stakeholders can benefit.
Apparently, business organizations are increasingly pledging their commitment for more innovative environmental investments. For instance, energy and water conservation, waste minimization and recycling, pollution prevention, environmental protection as well as sustainable transport options. These sustainable practices bring strategic benefits such as operational efficiencies and cost savings. Several empirical studies (including mine) have indicated that discretionary investments in CSR, whether they are driven from strategic intents or from "posturing behaviors," often result in improved relationships with internal and external stakeholders. The rationale for societal engagement is to anticipate third-party pressures, lower the criticisms from the public and minimize legal cases through compliance with regulations.
CSR should not be merely presented as goodwill or as a philanthropic venture. It should be featured as a realistic business case for stakeholders. This shared value proposition requires particular areas of focus within the company’s context. Yet, at the same time, it looks after the societal well-being. This notion contributes towards sustainability by addressing societal and community deficits. Presumably, shared value can be sustained only if there is a true commitment to organizational learning, and if there is a genuine willingness to forge relationships with key stakeholders, including customers and employees. Free publicity and informal word-of-mouth can either bring supportive or damaging effects. Moreover, there is scope for businesses to foster strong relationships with particular community and marketplace beneficiaries. Such stakeholders can possibly serve as a buffer against potentially negative and harmful reviews.
In a similar vein, inbound marketing tactics also draw customers to businesses. Successful businesses are continuously coming up with informative yet interesting, original content through innovative marketing and interactive methods such as blogs, podcasts, social media networking and e-newsletters. Online content includes refreshing information which tells stakeholders how to connect the dots. It goes without saying that corporate internet sites are serving their purpose. The general public is continuously presented with a better picture of a company's communications -- containing the latest news, elements of the marketing-mix endeavors and marketing fads. It transpires that content marketing has become a valuable tool for CSR communications.
Businesses who make use of the right content to explain their CSR behaviors will gain a competitive advantage relative to others. On the other hand, stakeholders have become acquainted with businesses communicating their motives and rationale behind CSR programs. CSR practices provide a good opportunity for businesses to raise their profile through their laudable behaviors. At times, businesses can obtain decent coverage by third parties, especially media enterprises who are renowned for their sense of objectivity. Strategic communications help to improve the corporate image of firms, leading to reputation benefits and rapports of trust with stakeholders. This short contribution suggests that content and inbound marketing can be successfully employed for CSR communications and to enhance customer and employee engagement.
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