The Georgetown University Center for Social Impact Communication (CSIC) released a new report this week on small business corporate social responsibility (CSR) trends. “Small Business, Big Engagement”, by CSIC Deputy Director Julie Dixon, highlights 5 trends in small business social media engagement for CSR storytelling and showcases 5 best practices for CSR communicators. The full report is worth a careful read (you can access it here), especially for the advice on authentic, effective status updates, but key takaways are included below.
To understand how small businesses are communicating their CSR activities and results through social media, CSIC conducted in-depth interviews with 12 small businesses in the Washington, DC area and supplemented their responses with audits of their websites and social media channels. The results indicate that small businesses care about communicating about CSR, but are skeptical about being seen as exploiting their good works to prop up their brand in the community. Many prefer to ‘lead by example’ and let their actions speak for themselves, but as the CSIC report illustrates, there are huge benefits to sharing CSR news and fostering a conversation with stakeholders around important issues.
According to the CSIC report: “For a majority of small businesses interviewed, the types of things they do in the community are just a part of who they are and how they operate naturally within their values. And a communications strategy should be an extension of that—not segmented or separated into CSR and non-CSR messaging.”
Here are the 5 best practices CSIC identifies for CSR communicators at any size company, but especially from smaller brands:
1. Align with authenticity
In other words, seek a long-term partnership with a community-based organization and prioritize aligning your brand values and assets with the nonprofit’s mission and needs.
Example: Hodgson Consulting, an interactive technology and web development firm, partners with a local DC nonprofit A Wider Circle, an agency working to end homelessness and poverty, because A Wider Circle’s needs (physical labor in moving and loading furniture or participation in fundraising events like a 5K or softball tournament) are well aligned with Hodgson Consulting’s assets and resources (its predominantly young, male workforce).
2. Choose your channels wisely
Your company doesn’t have to establish a presence on every new social network or digital platform. You just have to engage on the channels that suit your content style and audience. Once you select your channels, be sure to understand the rules of engagement and tailor your content for the biggest effect (i.e. ask questions to encourage conversation on Facebook or tag a hashtag to let others know you’re following the topic on Twitter).
3. Stock your CSR pantry
Authentic and relevant social media communication takes a little forethought, but once you’ve assembled the right assets, you can mix and match to create a full editorial calendar of updates. A mix of assets can include thematic videos, video testimonials, photos from an event, polls, questions, quotes, statistics, relevant news items etc… You want to plan posts on a regular schedule and invite your community to take different actions – share, comment, take a poll – to keep the engagement fresh and appeal to different engagement styles.
4. Know (and empower) your audience
Making your audience central to your social conversation celebrates their contributions to your CSR activities and also motivates them to share your content with their networks (who doesn’t like to talk about her/himself?). Further, employees can be a primary audience group for many small businesses and content about employees empowers them to become your brand ambassadors in the community in which they live and work.
5. Embrace experimentation
Don’t fear failure. The digital conversation moves quickly, so any missteps are soon pushed aside (or way down the status update feed). Plus, companies of all sizes are still figuring ‘it’ out, so there is no need to pretend to have a social strategy all figured out.