Running a sustainable business is the right thing to do. Communicating your CSR efforts doesn’t hurt either. But how to deliver your CSR related content so that it’s heard, understood, and appreciated?
In July and August 2023, we polled several CSR-related groups on LinkedIn about this topic, and collected over 1000 opinions. In this article, we sum up the outcome and make the numbers speak.
Key takeaways in 100 words
The poll results suggest that the primary audiences for CSR-related content are customers, counterparties and employees. Infographics and video are considered to be the best formats to convey a CSR message. Regarding the role of CSR in a commercial company, the respondents agree that it is, in equal parts, both a necessary formality and a newsworthy activity simultaneously.
These opinions give reason to believe that a company’s CSR activities are worth showcasing in the most vivid and engaging media formats, regardless of the reasons the company decided to act in a socially responsible way.
Facts & Figures
Before we delve into details, let’s elaborate on how we collected the data.
The polls were conducted in July and August 2023 in the following LinkedIn groups:
- RSE — Responsabilité Sociétale des Organisations — ESG Corporate Social Responsibility, over 257,000 members*.
Polls: 3. Votes: 179; 349; 261.
- Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Leaders, over 17,000 members.
Polls: 2. Votes: 29; 62.
- Sustainability & Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), over 177,000 members.
Poll: 1. Votes: 74.
- PR Professionals, over 145,000 members.
Polls: 2. Votes: 77; 51.
Polls, total: 8
Votes, total: 1,082
* As of the time of writing.
Links to the original polls are attached to numbers in the ‘Votes’ part. You might need to be a member of the respective group to check them out.
- For these eight polls, total number of votes was 1,082. We are grateful to every LinkedIn user who shared their opinion!
- The quantity of votes collected in the most popular poll is 349, and the average quantity of votes per poll is 135.
- Every poll lasted for seven full consecutive days.
- Every question had four answer options. A voter was able to select only one option.
- The same questions were asked in every group, but not every poll collected a statistically significant quantity of votes in every group. The polls with low engagement aren’t taken into account in this article.
- For the ‘RSE — Responsabilité Sociétale des Organisations’ group, the content of the polls was localized into the French language. In other groups the questions were asked in English.
Now, let’s see what exactly was asked, and what were the patterns of response.
Question 1: Who is the primary audience of your CSR content?
The following answer options were proposed:
- Top Management
- Counterparties / Employees
In the infographics below you can see the summarized answers from three groups.
If you want to see how exactly this question was answered in specific groups, please check these links: Group 1, Group 3, Group 4. Remember that you might need to be a member of the group to see its content.
This option was the first choice of voters in both Group 3 and Group 4. Why is addressing CSR related messages to customers so ubiquitous?
Existing customers want to be sure that they were right when they chose your company’s products or services. When you communicate your positive impact on social or environmental issues, you give them this confidence.
When it comes to prospective customers, articulating your dedication to sustainability can help your brand stand out from competitors and convince customers to trust you.
This option was the first choice of voters in Group 1. Let’s make several assumptions as to why this is the case.
First, when existing employees are aware of their company making a positive impact on the world around them, it gives them a sense of fulfillment. This is how they see they are more than employees; they are a part of a socially responsible community!
Second, a clear CSR statement has the power to simplify hiring, at least to a certain extent. Other things being equal, articulating your CSR mission can bring the right people to your company: those who will stay for a long time, and be willing to contribute to the company’s success.
A sustainable company is a more attractive counterparty than a non-sustainable one, isn’t it?
Sharing similar values with vendors and suppliers creates credibility, and this might be the shortest path to mutually beneficial collaboration. Demonstrating a commitment to CSR can give a company a competitive edge in the marketplace!
On top of that, companies with strong & proven CSR practices tend to be more proactive in identifying and mitigating risks related to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. This image can be appealing to counterparties who want to minimize potential risks associated with their business relationships.
This option was the second most popular answer in Group 3. Indeed, since CSR / ESG departments now operate even in some midsize companies, reporting on specific CSR efforts to senior colleagues becomes an inevitable task.
And it’s not always just a formality. Reporting helps everyone see a bigger picture, organize routines within a framework of measurable goals, and consider CSR activities in the context of corporate ESG policy.
Sure, this kind of reporting, just by its nature, should be based on facts and figures. There’s no rule, however, that your report has to make top management yawn. Sooner or later, monotonous slideshows will give way to more engaging formats for presenting data. You’ve probably noticed this trend already, haven’t you?
In Groups 1 and 3, this option collected the least answers. Group 4, however, put this option at the second place. The reason for the latter might be that in certain countries, the disclosure of CSR activities is required by law. Transparency may be required in such aspects as environmental sustainability, labor practices, community engagement, and more.
This way, sometimes companies are obliged to act in a socially responsible manner, which is a blessing in disguise: measurable efforts have already been made, and the company can benefit by giving those efforts some coverage.
If you do CSR, there’s inevitably someone to whom this matters. Just figure out who exactly it is, and think of how you can leverage it.
There are at least five audiences to whom you may want to target your CSR messages. Certainly, for each of them, you need to choose the most appropriate method of delivery. Select from a variety of mediums to communicate your CSR message, and play around with different formats to see what gets you a response!
Question 2: Which format best conveys your CSR message?
To answer this question, the following options were suggested:
- Texts: Articles
- Pictures: Infographics
- Presentations: PDFs, etc.
- Videos: Explainers, Ads
This question was the most engaging for the members of Group 1, where it collected 349 votes: it’s an absolute record among our CSR polls conducted this summer. Another 29 votes came from Group 2, adding up to a general picture.
Why do Infographics top the rankings? First, this kind of content is relatively easy to produce — given that you have a strong factual background that proves your CSR efforts, of course. Infographics speak for themselves; they can function either as self-sufficient, standalone content or as part of more complex messages, enhancing the informativeness of videos, presentations, and articles.
Although infographics are king, there’s also a queen, and it’s Her Majesty Video. Some will be surprised by this, since there’s received wisdom that video production is always expensive and complicated. We debunked this myth here, and the quantity of people who voted for the ‘Videos’ option in the poll proves us right.
More and more CSR experts find it reasonable to talk about their efforts in the vivid, easy-to-grasp form of video, be it animated graphics, actual footage, or a mix. CSR efforts can be the key topic of your video — or, you can weave your CSR message into the general outline of your narrative. And, of course, you can experiment with video distribution channels. A video can become a nice piece for the company’s social networks, and it can support your advertising efforts at the Brand Awareness and subsequent marketing stages.
And it seems absolutely logical to combine these two most popular formats, right up to animating your infographics. Convert static images into a compelling animated story that unfolds in front of the audience’s eyes!
Presentations are something all we create from time to time, mostly for internal purposes, to deliver some information to a narrow audience, such as coworkers or prospects. Think of the gap between ‘delivering information’ and ‘telling a compelling story’ — and you may understand why presentations aren’t the most popular format for crafting a CSR message!
CSR-related content is very human, just by nature. Even when it’s created for a certain business purpose, at its heart is the positive impact made on society or the environment. A PDF file or set of slides is something much too soulless, and a CSR message wrapped into this format may lose something vital.
As for text-based content, such as articles, it was quite a surprise to see this option at the very bottom of the rankings. The likely reason for this may simply be that nowadays, especially with AI writing tools becoming ubiquitous, anyone can write literally anything. In terms of building credibility, articles don’t look like the best option. The value of plain text is fading, and CSR experts are aware of it. Instead of talking about their CSR efforts, they tend to showcase them. This is exactly what the most popular formats, i.e. infographics and videos, are good at!
Conclusion: boring formats don’t run the show anymore. To deliver a CSR message, opt for illustrative, informative, and convincing methods, such as fact-based infographics and videos.
Question 3: Which of these statements best reflects your views on the role of CSR in a commercial company?
The following statements were given:
- CSR is a necessary formality
- CSR helps hire/retain staff
- CSR helps win counterparties
- CSR actions are newsworthy
Interestingly, this poll has two leaders.
The ‘CSR is a necessary formality’ statement turned out to be the first choice in Group 2 and Group 4. This statement suggests that some respondents view CSR as something companies are obligated to do to meet certain regulatory or legal requirements.
It doesn’t necessarily follow, however, that accepting this view excludes approaching CSR as a genuine commitment. To survive and thrive, commercial companies nowadays need to be agile, i.e. able to behave according to changeable circumstances. What was initially imposed from the outside can gradually grow into the principles of the business and subsequently become an integral part of it. And even though initially this is a reaction to external circumstances, over time, CSR principles can fuse into the way the business is run.
After a few years, the reasons the company became socially responsible will no longer matter. So it may be that those who agreed with this statement are at the beginning of this exact journey!
The ‘CSR actions are newsworthy’ statement was the first choice among the voters in Group 1, while in Group 4 this option was the second most popular.
This statement implies that a significant portion of respondents believe that CSR initiatives should be publicized and communicated to the public and stakeholders, while CSR itself can be seen as a valuable tool for enhancing a company’s reputation and gaining positive media attention.
This is a great occasion for CSR / ESG specialists to team up with the marketing department. While the CSR people have the necessary information on exact efforts being taken, marketers can use this data to come up with a new value proposition and produce informative and attractive content, from viral infographics to catchy banner taglines. This can lead to marketing pieces that are capable of bringing the company’s advertising to a new level of performance.
As we noted in another article, ‘chances are good that in the near future, running a business with CSR principles embedded into the enterprise’s DNA will be the standard. But until that happens, sustainable entrepreneurs have an advantage over their solely profit-oriented competitors.’
These two statements collected an absolutely equal quantity of votes in our polls, and we consider it more than a nice coincidence. Indeed, this is what CSR is now: an inevitable thing that can bring a business a lot of good… If conducted mindfully and showcased appropriately!
Although the ‘CSR helps win counterparties’ statement wasn’t among the most popular answers, the poll results show that a portion of respondents view CSR as a factor that can influence business relationships with partners, clients, or suppliers. This is something that can be considered ‘social license.’
Some respondents believe that CSR can be a strategic asset for attracting and retaining partners who value socially responsible practices, for either ethical or practical reasons.
And have you thought about CSR initiatives as an opportunity to expand into new markets or industries where socially responsible practices are highly valued? This should be quite relevant for companies from developing countries aiming at profitable foreign markets with fierce competition.
The ‘CSR helps hire/retain staff’ statement was the second most popular in Group 2. It indicates that some believe that CSR initiatives can help a company create a more appealing workplace culture and attract talent who align with the company’s values.
This is where CSR, HSE, and QSE employees can give substantial support to their colleagues from the Human Resources department. After all, a company is not only interested in promoting its products and services; it’s also interested in promoting itself as a place where the best experts might be willing to work.
Companies that are known for their CSR efforts may find it easier to build rapport with applicants, since many job seekers, especially younger generations, prefer to work for organizations that align with their personal values. And mere words are not enough anymore. When the applicants see tangible proof of the company’s social commitment, this should be more effective than sweet words and abstract promises, shouldn’t it?
Conclusion: While some respondents view CSR as a necessary obligation, others see it as a valuable tool for reputation enhancement, attracting business partners, and talent acquisition/retention. Understanding these varied viewpoints can be valuable for companies looking to refine their CSR strategies and communication efforts to align with the preferences and expectations of different stakeholders.
With over a thousand opinions collected and analyzed, we feel confident about one thing: Even if you’re obliged to do CSR, you can benefit from showcasing it, and win the hearts of your audience.
CSR activities are newsworthy no matter how many steps you’ve already taken walking the sustainability path. It’s a long road, and some support from those who share the same values can be a great argument for you to press on with being socially responsible.
Transmit your CSR messages to different audiences, evaluate their response, and fine-tune your approach to showcasing your social impact. Try to make your narrative engaging, use the most illustrative methods to prove your commitment to sustainability, and keep it up!