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Why is CSR silent in social media?

“I think Richard Dawkins was sent to test us. Like fossils. And facts.”

It’s not just religious fervour that facts can get in the way of – a good dose of facts and rational discussion is the best cure for disinformation and malicious rumours too. So why aren’t more CSR programmes using social media to fight negative perceptions of their organisations?

It strikes me that one of the richest sources of useful, interesting and inspiring information that organisations have is the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) work that they do. By that I mean in part, their charitable, social works, but also their ethics and principles and how these are put into practice

It’s not just about shouting about all the work you do for charity. CSR at its best (and I think of M&S Plan A first in this respect) is about explaining the principles and the ethics the organisation subscribes to.

In my student days i was lazily radical in my views about corporations. Twenty years later I will hold my hand up and admit my views on, say, McDonalds or Nike were informed by word of mouth, rarely backed up by evidence or data beyond that which was presented to me by campus activists. I think I got quite worked up about some of it, and I think a lot of it was nonsense.

There were and are two issues around responding constructively to anti-corporate criticism:

  1. Organisations aren’t individuals: The Corporation has a fascinating premise (essentially, if corporations were individuals they would be psychopaths) but it stops being useful when you try to understand how corporations or any large organisations behave. They aren’t individuals, they aren’t monoliths, they aren’t even machines in which their employees are all little cogs and moving parts. Large organisations are networks, complex adaptive ones at that – we deploy management and metaphors to control them, and direct them and shape them, but essentially they are human social networks.
  2. The issues are complex: My sense over the years is that corporate communications and issue management teams have been schooled in managing communications in mainstream media. That means control and simplification are the order of the day. Soundbites aren’t useful when you are trying to explain complex issues around, say, social responsibility, tax or regulation. Success is being in control of the news agenda, mindshare, even if most people don’t believe a word they are reading and just assume that because you are big company you are up to no good.

Actually, both these points are about complexity. The perfect place to share information, discuss it openly, link to evidence, discuss issues openly, share examples of doing good, are the social web.

Yet, according to a new report from the pretty thorough and credible guys at Social Media Influence:

fewer than half of nearly 300 North American and European companies currently communicate their corporate and social responsibility accomplishments. Just one quarter have a dedicated social media sustainability channel or advocate.

This compares to about 85% of the Social Media Sustainability Index Report  sample who are happily trying to promote their products and services through social media.

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