From communication about corporate responsibility to corporate responsibility in the realm of communication: this is the switch that companies big and small are making in the way they talk about sustainability.
It is a global phenomenon driven by two main factors.
On the one hand, changes in consumer awareness mean that consumers are much more alert to corporate social responsibility (CSR) issues and the sustainable behaviour of companies and brands.
On the other, communication tools are evolving to promote direct interaction with users, with more genuine language and more empathetic approaches adopted.
It all means that the time has come to brush the cobwebs away from the way we communicate around social responsibility and sustainability issues. We must opt for a more human style and broaden the number of channels we use in order to reach a bigger target market, seizing the opportunities offered by the digital era.
We have had enough of sustainability reports published in cold PDF format and stuck in some hidden corner of a corporate website. At the very least, these alone are not enough. Now is the time for companies to show off their CSR philosophies and share them openly.
Among the most effective tools when it comes to CSR communication are blogs: these are corporate spaces where it is possible to have an ongoing dialogue with target stakeholders, embrace the contribution of external influencers and build a reputation and sense of relevance, partly as regards SEO optimisation.
The undisputed star of the show of digital communication, however, is the world of social media.
This network of platforms is capable of bringing together over two billion users and has revolutionised the way we communicate. On social media, each and every subject imaginable opens up to the world and becomes an opportunity for dialogue with stakeholders.
Yet not all social networks are suitable for the task at hand. Each company must identify the most useful networks for them to communicate their CSR strategy.
Itâ€™s difficult to overlook Facebook and Twitter, the two social-media behemoths, but it would be a big mistake not to use LinkedIn too. It is the ideal forum not just for looking for and offering work, but also for building a brand reputation and discussing issues of strategic importance to a company, such as CSR.
When it comes to communication, the most innovative companies are able to transform language from spoken/written to graphics and illustrations. For example, if you can communicate the key points of your sustainability report through a graphic on Instagram or Pinterest, you may be able to boost engagement with and sharing of the content.
But thatâ€™s not all. If used properly, social media can also help a company to achieve credibility and prestige within a sector.
One example of this is the intelligent use of specific hashtags. These are an incredibly valuable tool when it comes to publicising a companyâ€™s CSR activities, promoting events and initiatives and positioning internal stakeholders as expert influencers.
This is an extraordinary opportunity, but not one to be taken lightly.
To ensure they donâ€™t fall into the trap of superficiality, companies must not forget that social networks â€“ and digital media in general â€“ are ultra-accessible platforms that open the door for dialogue between various parties. Therefore, staff working on corporate communications must be ready to moderate conversations between stakeholders, face up to a more complex form of debate and change their tone of voice from institutional to more informal.