Finally, a trend that’s worth talking about— social responsibility in business. The initiative is experiencing a bit of a resurgence as big companies like Google and Microsoft continue to pave a philanthropic path, using their power, influence, and heavily-lined pockets to support causes greater than their profit margins.
The resulting positive social impact and favorable impression of big-hearted businesses showcasing their do-gooder qualities isn’t lost on consumers. Millennials are especially receptive, taking into consideration a company’s social responsibility efforts when it comes to both the buying and hiring process.
According to a research report by Gartner (available to clients), 85 percent of millennials are more willing to buy from and recommend a brand that’s committed to social impact. When looking for a job, the same is true: a study done by research agency Achieve shows that a company’s commitment to social causes is the third most important reason that millennials will apply to work there. Once hired, 87 percent feel encouraged to lend a helping hand to support socially responsible company initiatives.
If you want to get your small business involved in social responsibility but aren’t quite sure where to begin, this article will go through:
- What social responsibility in business is
- How to start building a social impact strategy
- How to measure your brand’s success.
What is social responsibility in business?
The idea of corporate social responsibility (sometimes abbreviated as CSR) has been around since the 1960s. Starting as a way for companies to counterbalance the negative impact that their businesses had on the environment or on society in general, the definition expanded in the 1990s to include more ethical and philanthropic initiatives unrelated to the functioning of a business. In recent years, it’s expanded even further to become the foundation of business strategy and product positioning.
A company can participate in any and all of these types of social initiatives. Consider some examples below:
1) A business counterbalancing its environmental or social impacts in compliance with national or international standards;
- Example: English Tea Shop sells organic, fair trade, and sustainable tea.
2) A business supporting philanthropic initiatives by either volunteering time or money;
- Example: Apple donated $10 million to relief funds for Hurricanes Irma and Harvey.
3) A business who uses social responsibility as their brand’s main positioning tool;
- Example: Toms positions itself as a giving brand by donating a pair of shoes to someone in need for every pair sold.
From donating money, to volunteering time, participating in events, to brand positioning, corporate social responsibility boats a lot of benefits besides the actual causes that it supports. According to Gartner’s recent research (available to clients), these include:
- Brand awareness– showcasing your brand through its initiatives
- Customer engagement– allowing customers to feel as if they’re participating in socially responsible efforts
- Customer trust and loyalty– being transparent with your customers about your initiatives
- Customer advocacy– encouraging customers to promote your brand through its initiatives
- Employee engagement– encouraging employees to participate in socially responsible efforts.
The key to doing social responsibility right, is to make sure that it makes sense within the context of your business.
How do I start building a social impact strategy?
A lot needs to be taken into consideration before embarking on a strategy that will help your business become more socially responsible. And that’s what it needs to be– a strategy with long-term commitment. As Gartner’s report notes, your efforts should align with your company values; if they don’t, you risk hurting your company’s image or being accused of participating in social efforts solely for the benefit of your brand (and its bottom line). Some questions to consider include:
1) You brand identity– Is there a cause that would make logical sense for your business to support? Consider your brand’s legacy, behavior, and reputation.
- Example: Starbucks has long-since worked for sustainable, fair-trade and ecological ways of farming coffee.
2) Your customer personas– Will your customers be able to identify with and eager to support your efforts?
- Example: Makeup brand Sephora promotes female beauty entrepreneurs with its Sephora Stands ‘Accelerate’ program.
3) Your marketing strategy– Can you target your customers on the platforms where they’ll be likely to participate?
- Example: Target used Facebook to target parents with summer learning tips for kids to support its dedication to schools and education.
Once you’ve fleshed out the answers to these questions, you can begin implementing a social impact program and start measuring its impact.
How can I measure my brand’s success?
Companies that are required by law or regulation to meet certain social or environmental standards use dedicated software to measure the impact of their sustainability efforts; the impact of most other types of social responsibility are slightly more difficult to measure. There are, however, ways to do it.
Based on Gartner’s recommendations, success can be measured in three different areas: social impact, brand equity, and employee engagement.
Measuring the dollar amount of money raised or the number of dedicated volunteer hours per employee is easy enough, but what about measuring the effect of that money or time on the supported causes? Keeping track of these things is the first step towards measuring their impact (and can be especially important for reporting purposes), but from there, it’s just as important to reach out to organizations or individuals to get a better idea of how it’s helped.
There are tools out there that can help measure both the contribution and impact of socially responsible initiatives. These tools can even go as far as helping you find a cause, measuring and reporting the results, and providing a social impact score. Tools include:
How has your brand’s perception changed in the eyes of consumers and stakeholders? That’s the second most important question that companies should be asking in order to gauge the success of their efforts (the first being, how have our efforts helped?). Brand equity can be somewhat difficult to measure because it has a lot to do with consumer perception, but if you’re a small business looking to see how it may have changed, a social listening tool can help.
Social listening tools scour social media, blogs, and other online media for mentions of a brand. Each mention takes into account sentiment, as well as influence of the person or outlet mentioning the brand. By noting changes over time, you can see both what people are talking about, and how brand perception may have changed over time. Tools for social listening include:
Getting employees involved and on board with initiatives is an important chapter in the success story of a social impact strategy. Measuring employee engagement doesn’t only include participation but, similar to brand equity, perception.
Employee engagement software is the easiest way to get employees involved and engaged with your company’s initiatives, as well as get feedback on their level of engagement with the company. Using a combination of feedback surveys and analytics, you can get a sense of the overarching effect of socially responsible initiatives on employee satisfaction, company confidence, or likelihood to recommend. Tools for employee engagement include:
Feel good about doing good
People want to feel like they’re making a difference. Whether they’re buying your products or working for your company, they can satisfy their own altruistic need for philanthropy through your business’ social impact efforts. This customer perception, along with trust, loyalty, and employee engagement, are just a few of the runoff benefits of being socially responsible.
It should, however, begin with a genuine desire to do good. Without that, your business risks being called out for its transparent efforts at “doing good” for its own benefit.