Communicating Your Social Impact in CSR Reporting

Posted on the 31st July 2019

Why communicate your social impact

Demonstrating a social impact is not a legal obligation for all sectors, at least not in the UK, but that doesn’t mean brands shouldn’t celebrate the good work they do. With the ease of access and cost-effectiveness of digital media, this behaviour is becoming commonplace across almost all sectors.

Unfortunately, this is negated by the issue of green-washing and lip-service. These problems are hindered further by the barriers of short audience attention spans and the overcrowded noise of online platforms which have led to difficulties in standing out as a genuine pro-social organisation.

To overcome these barriers, brands need to reinforce trust. To be trusted, they need to be honest with their audience. This can be difficult considering 58% of adults distrust a brand until they see ‘real world proof’. 

Behaviours of ‘withholding information’ or ‘ignoring customer questions’ have been cited as key reasons for brand distrust, and so the opportunity lies in really utilising the power of social and digital media as a medium for communicating social good. Organisations should be using their platforms to talk with the people who are engaged with their business – those who care enough to ask questions. This is fundamentally the point of ‘social’ media. 

Honesty in CSR pays. Ask Patagonia 

Patagonia has revolutionised the way brands communicate their values, their ethics and their impact. They make bold and meaningful statements, and most importantly, they back it up with real-world evidence. They’re also refreshing when it comes to their honesty about how they are not perfect when it comes to their sustainability, which is novel in its own right. People relate to this, and Patagonia has done a fantastic job of inspiring change and engaging the people that matter. This is due, in some part, to CEO Rose Marcario who leads on Patagonia’s social impact from the top. Her loud, straightforward and transparent approach has inspired activism, action and, most importantly, an impact within the organisation. This has evidently resonated with her employees and customers as their profits have quadrupled since 2014.   

The how & who of communicating your social impact

When it comes to communicating your social impact, we recommend focusing on 4 key audiences: 

  1. Internal Stakeholders
  2. Customers
  3. Employees
  4. Competitors 

Each audience is different when it comes to what they expect from communications, so it can be challenging creating content that really resonates with all groups. That being said, there are some basic actions you can take to make sure communications are relevant and well-targeted.

Internal Stakeholders

Stakeholders, like Board Members and Directors, predominantly rely on the data presented in CSR reports. They often don’t have everyday exposure needed to really understand the brand’s social impact, and so they rely on high-level stats that demonstrate it for them. 

For this level of seniority, keep to the key insights. Data should be displayed concisely and visually. Communicate the data in an easy-to-understand, informative way. Try infographics, visual dashboards, and graphs to grab their attention. Internal stakeholders need to be on your side, as ultimately, they’re the ones allocating budget so take the time to appease their needs.

Customers

Stories over statistics. 

Keep this rule in mind when communicating your impact on your target audience. Humans relate to other humans. I’m ironically going to use a stat to justify our point here, but humans are 22 times more likely to remember a fact when it has been wrapped in a story. Stories are powerful, and they are an effective way of translating the impact you are having on people. If you need more support on capturing human stories, check out our article on qualitative data capture using surveys. 

Share these stories frequently on the platforms where your audience exists – as normal. 

Employees

Employees who engage with your socially responsible initiatives fundamentally do so because they care. As a result, they are keen to know the difference they are making as individuals, and whether they’re contributing to something greater. There is undoubtedly fulfilment in doing good, so be sure to recognise and celebrate that. One approach we adopt at Impact is gamification. Individuals, Teams or Departments can log their impact collectively, which feeds into a live leaderboard. This sense of friendly competition has worked in improving engagement and stimulating enthusiasm from other – previously uninvolved – employees. 

Competitors

Speaking of healthy competition, we support the sharing of one’s impact with other organisations within your sector. Granted, not all brands are comfortable with sharing their data, but if we truly want to make a difference, we need everyone to be motivated. And the best way to really motivate a competitor is to show that you’re winning. 

Be brave, and be boastful. The work you’re doing is helpful and worthwhile, and it is making a difference. It is something to be proud of. Show them how good you are, and inspire them to reach your standard. 

The best way to communicate your achievements to competitors is through CSR reports, by winning CSR-related awards, or by simply displaying your insights on your website. Your competitors will be watching.

Final thoughts

Our suggestions expressed here are nothing new – but that is the beauty of it. You are most likely doing these things within a different context, so be confident in applying these recommendations. 

It is also worth noting that we’re at the beginning of social impact in the grand scheme of things. It took 400 years to create a community of practice for accounting.

We’ll make mistakes, we’ll learn, and we’ll grow. So get in touch should you need any support around social and environmental impact reporting.

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