Strategically Communicating CSR in the Digital Age

The five key notes for communication are objective, target, content, media and balance. So let us understand what makes these key pointers effective with respect to corporate social responsibility and thus how communication in this digital age plays a key role in it.

To understand the efficacy of good communication let us look into two the side-effects of ineffective communication. The first casualty is low awareness of stakeholders and the second is the risk of unfavourable attributions towards companies’ CSR activities. Low awareness is a loss-making proposition for an organisation wherein the good work that is done towards making the society a better place is not capture and shared with key stakeholders. This strips the organisation of some key benefits — favourable stakeholder attitudes, better support behaviours, strong stakeholder–company relationships, and higher stakeholders’ advocacy behaviours.

The biggest loss, perhaps, is the missed opportunity to build the brand of the organisation. Miscommunication, wrong handling of crisis, and inadequate share of voice can also lead to negative brand image of the organisation. There are cases where it is perceived, by target audience and public, that company aims to profiteer through its CSR activities and thus it lacks the responsibility to give back to the society.

In today’s digital age, where everyone with a smartphone can express their opinion that can snowball into a crisis before one knows it, a miscommunication or lack of communication can result in multiple ticking time bombs for the brand image of the company. And CSR being a very sensitive area which impacts lives, the risk is way too high.

With this background let us look into strategic CSR communication on the basis of the five notes.

First, the objective and the target of the CSR communication needs to be defined as per the orgnisation’s strategic objective. Ideally the CSR activities should be aligned to the line of functioning of the organisation. How an organisation gives back to the society responsibly is very important but how it shares that story with key stakeholders is also crucial. The stories of the good work help associate the right virtues with the organisation.

For any communicator the first thing to remember is that the primary objective as well as challenge is to communicate a story on how the CSR activity is able to touch lives.

The objective will define the way wherein the organisation aims to achieve a certain goal through its CSR operations. For example, suppose an organisation wants to adopt a village and generate 100% literacy there in the next five years. This clearly sets the goal of communication as showcasing the success story and progress made by this organisation towards achieving 100% literacy in that village.

The target is very crucial and should be aligned with the organiation’s target stakeholders such as clients, partners and as well as a greater audience for overall brand building.

Next comes content and as we know it is the king. So the objective here is to generate compelling human interest stories that will strike a chord with the target audience and make them take interest. The only thing that needs to be kept in mind is to communicate truthfully the benefits that the society is receiving. This human interest story will eventually help associate the right virtues to the overall corporate brand. Communication should also be made keeping in mind the format. If it is for a newsletter this will have a more company’s perspective and if it is for print media it will have more of the beneficiary’s perspective. If it is for social media it has to be very crisp in communicating the story as the attention span is lowest here.

Media has become multi-faceted and thus every media needs a different format of content and thus a different packaging of stories. The story has complicated manifold with the onset of social media. Earlier communication was limited to newsletters and newspapers. Today, to that list is added social media’s owned channels of an organisation as well as channels of its clients, prospects as well as public.

An organisation can only control its owned media but has to strive to generate authority with earned media in the digital platform wherein others are talking about the good work that the organisation is doing in CSR. This is a challenge no doubt but this is also a huge opportunity. This multiplies the channels through which the good work done by organisation in CSR can be communicated to key stakeholders as well as audience and influencers in general.

The final word of advice to all CSR communicators is always be balanced in your communication and stories. Your stories cannot sound like a sales pitch. It is the unbiased voice of sharing how your organisation touches lives lends credibility to your communication and thus to your organisation in turn.

In today’s digital age you need to have a fair share of voice, across all channels, and that voice needs to be honest, unbiased and credible – this will eventually lead to the brand building of your organisation.

Mahul Brahma
Prof (Dr.) Mahul Brahma is a Professor and Dean of School of Media and Communications at Adamas University. Dr Brahma was Chief Editor and Head of CSR, Corporate Communications and Branding, Publishing and Conferences for a Tata Steel and SAIL JV, mjunction. He is a D.Litt in luxury and communications, and a PhD in Economics. He is a TEDx speaker on mythic value of luxury.

He won Crisis Communications Leader of the Year Award in 2021 and several other national-level awards in communications and CSR. He is a luxury commentator and award-winning author of five books – How to Communicate Strategically in Corporate World, the Luxe Trilogy (Decoding Luxe, Dark Luxe and Luxe Inferno) and Quarantined: Love in the time of Corona. He is an alumnus of Indian Institute of Management - Calcutta, St Xavier’s College, MICA, SSSUTMS, and University of Cambridge Judge Business School. He loves to play golf and paint.

1 Comment on "Strategically Communicating CSR in the Digital Age"

  1. Very relevant and it is a true fact. Good work shall be showcased and the way for communication is nicely elaborated in the article

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