Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Corporate Social Responsibility on MySpace?

A white paper and survey recently published by Fleishman-Hilliard and The National Consumers League points to web-based tools as the preferred channel of communications when it comes to corporate social responsibility (CSR).

As the divide between consumer expectations and big business widens, CSR, as a function of an organization, holds even greater importance.

Over three quarters of respondents in the survey rated American companies social responsibility as either fair or poor. These figures are not very encouraging. CSR takes on additional relevance when you look at the topics running through the news cycle today – gas prices, health care costs, global warming – all of these issues flirt with CSR in one way or another:

I may be OK paying $4.00/gallon at Shell, but you’ve got to tell me what you’re doing to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

I may have no problem with buying a $60 DVD player at Wal-Mart, but I'll wonder if the company is doing all it can to improve health care benefits for its employees.

The success in defusing this dissonance hinges on an organization’s ability to clearly communicate its stance on a whole menu of corporate social responsibility issues. In that way, the role of corporate social responsibility is often that of a traffic cop standing in that dangerous cross roads of capitalistic motivation and ethical standards.

Young PR pros with expertise in social media have a role to play in this dichotomy. The majority of respondents said the Internet was the primary means for learning about a about a company’s CSR policies. A quarter of respondents said they use the Internet, and specifically social networks, to do the same – that’s a 100% increase from one year ago and yet another way social media can help serve communicators.

Social media allows for transparency and collaboration (two important ingredients in a CSR strategy) in ways that more traditional channels fall short.
Robert Manuel, the dean of Georgetown University’s School of Continuing Studies on social-networking sites and CSR:

“A majority of Americans now bypass television and newspapers and turn to online sources to understand the social responsibility record of companies in their community. And more and more Americans are viewing social-networking sites, where a company cannot control its message, to gather information.”

Good news for organizations already using the Internet to communicate corporate social responsibility messages and more ammunition for PR pros urging their clients to explore web based channels as a means to connect with an ever growing audience.

Check out the full study here.

(I'll spare everyone the typical mea culpa found in postings when bloggers return from unexplained hiatus and only say that I've been extraordinarily busy and have committed to posting with great frequency. It's great to be back!)

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