As anyone in the office will confirm, sustainable digital marketing and corporate social responsibility are some of my favourite digital marketing topics!
If you want a sneak preview, here’s what I’ll be discussing:
What is corporate social responsibility?
There are many ways we can define corporate social responsibility (CSR), but if I were to put it as simply as possible, it would be that it’s the duty of business leaders to ensure that any product they sell or service they offer is:
- Good for customers.
- Good for the planet.
What is sustainable marketing?
You can’t really discuss corporate social responsibility without touching on sustainable marketing too. While the main definition regularly specifies that all actions taken by a brand should not damage people or the environment, there’s an additional way that I like to look at the definition of sustainable marketing.
That all actions taken are to ensure the brand continues to operate in the long term.
Put the two definitions of sustainable marketing together along with CSR, and you have a pretty mammoth undertaking on your hands.
A task I’ll help you break down into manageable chunks.
But before I go into any more detail, let me answer a question that I know you’ll be thinking:
Are CSR programmes a digital marketer’s responsibility?
I’ve done a lot of reading up on CSR and sustainable marketing and one of the things that really annoys me is that everything always focuses on traditional marketing instead of digital marketing.
Here are just some of the reasons why I believe that corporate social responsibility initiatives need the input of the digital marketing department:
- 34% of consumers – are looking for information surrounding sustainability issues via online search.
- 31% of consumers – are looking for information surrounding sustainability issues via social media.
- 41% of consumers – seek environmental information on brands and products via social media.
- Millennials are looking at how businesses are responding to issues including hunger, inequality and the environment and believe brands have a vital role in addressing these.
As the digital voice of brand reputation and performance, CSR efforts are 100% our remit and responsibility.
What is a corporate social responsibility strategy?
How to Put Together an Effective CSR Programme for Digital Marketers
Here are four steps to putting together an impactful CSR strategy to be used alongside other digital marketing efforts. The great news is that these steps include activities that you already know and likely use regularly as part of your current digital marketing efforts.
Step One: Research
Whether you work directly for the business or as part of an agency partnership, the first thing you do when creating a clear communication plan or optimisation strategy is to discover what’s already being done, how this aligns with what your direct competitors are doing and what more can be done.
Let’s break this down a little more:
Carry Out a Content Audit
A content audit of past news and blog posts is a great way to understand what CSR initiatives are already in place – there are likely efforts already being made that aren’t part of a strategic CSR plan.
We did this for one of our clients and found 21 blog posts that align with The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – these are 17 goals agreed upon by the United Nations that socially responsible companies can use as part of a corporate social responsibility initiative.
Here’s a quick summary of the SDGs. If you’d like to find out more, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs has more information.
Back to our client. That meant that there was already content on their site that aligned CSR activities with the brand. That was a great starting point for putting together a good CSR strategy for them.
Do Some Competitor Research
It’s always good to know what other businesses (your direct competitors) are doing – not to steal their ideas but to know where your brand or client stands in the bigger picture.
I did this for the client mentioned above and found that each competitor was focusing on something different as part of their CSR efforts.
One competitor was seemingly focusing on as many social and environmental issues as they could, whereas another was putting their time and attention into education (goal 4 of the SDGs) and another was looking into online accessibility (goal 10 of the SDGs).
Looking at existing initiatives from digital competitors and how they are communicating these digitally, is a great starting point for getting external stakeholders on board and ensuring that your strategic planning is going to pay off in the short and long term.
Align Your Recommendations With Business Priorities
Now you know what’s already been done, and what your competitors are doing, you should start to think about how all of this aligns with your business priorities. You stand a much better chance of getting full support with your CSR strategies if you base it on what the higher-ups care about.
If you can merge what they care about with tactics that will have a positive social impact, then you’ve got a win-win strategy.
I always recommend having a conversation with your clients or higher-ups, but another great starting point is to check out the brand’s mission statement and values – which ideally will be published on the brand’s ‘About Us’ page.
Use Employee Feedback
Employee engagement is incredibly important for successful corporate social responsibility initiatives (in my opinion).
From a digital marketer’s perspective, high levels of employee engagement make it more likely your plans will be approved, as well as provide you with more content opportunities to use in your digital marketing plans.
You can ask employee volunteers to carry out a survey (this could be anonymous), host focus groups or hold one-to-ones to ascertain what they are passionate about and what they want to see from the brand’s CSR programme.
This aspect of the research phase will be much easier to implement for those operating in-house as you’ll have better access to your colleagues, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for digital marketers operating agency-side.
Step Two: Goals
This step is comparatively shorter and easier to accomplish than the first step.
You can’t create a digital strategy without knowing what the short and long-term goals are.
Before you even begin putting together a strategy draft, you need to find out from the client or your higher-ups what these goals are, the time frame to achieve them and how they are going to be measured.
Because we’re talking about a corporate social responsibility strategy, your goals may be more brand sentiment-based, but there are still some traditional SEO metrics you can use to measure the impact and performance of your campaigns…
Step Three: Metrics and Benchmarking
Once you know what goals your client or employer wants to hit as part of their CSR initiatives, and by when, you’ll have to devise the best way to measure performance and have a good idea of where you’re starting from.
I love Costa Coffee’s approach to this. They have everything a site visitor, loyal or potential customer, could be looking for to understand Costa Coffee’s ethical business practices housed on one page as a sort of ‘hub’.
Each sub-page has an incredibly simple but effective method of communicating Costa’s metrics and benchmarks, here’s an example from their communities page:
You can clearly see in less than one minute what the brand’s current positions are, what its goals are and what they plan to approach next.
This is a great template to use as part of your own CSR metric setting and benchmarking.
Levi also does a good job of benchmarking and reporting and is an example I’ll be using in my Drink Digital and Brighton SEO presentation:
They wouldn’t know how much water has been saved if they hadn’t first measured how much they were using.
This example shows that you don’t necessarily have to point out how ‘bad’ processes were previously – by honestly pointing out:
- That you know there is an issue that needs addressing
- The impact you’ve made so far
- What you’re are planning to do next
Is more than enough.
This example proves that. At no point here have they said how much water was being wasted, but the amount they’ve saved still has a huge impact on the reader.
Additionally, there’s the option to benchmark yourself against your competitors if they’ve already started reporting on impacts as part of their own corporate social responsibility initiatives.
Benchmarking Advice – Choose Your Monitoring Tools Wisely
If GA4 taught us anything, it’s that historic data can be taken away from us at the push of a button. So, choose your performance metrics wisely.
The last thing you want is to monitor data for years and then suddenly, the tool you’re using changes or becomes unavailable.
If possible, choose a measurement method or tool that your brand has complete or most control of and that is likely to stand the test of time.
Of course, no one can know what’s around the corner (the pandemic taught us that), but try to think of potential tracking issues that may arise and have a plan in place should that happen.
Benchmarking Advice – Reporting
Once you know where you are, and where you want to be in terms of your CSR strategy, you’ll need to decide when you’re going to check performance and report back on this to your client or employer.
Typically, digital marketing reports are generated monthly, but due to the nature of corporate social responsibility programmes and the longer-term outlook, you don’t have to try and force ‘progress’ into monthly reporting.
Instead, I’d evaluate how much budget, time and impact you’re expecting and work your reporting timetable around that. You may decide that you will have more to say if you report on progress quarterly rather than monthly and allocate the additional time to implementing your CSR strategies.
Step Four: Marketing and Strategy Implementation
This is where you really get to shine. As digital marketers, we already know how to do all of the prep work I’ve mentioned in this post to build effective CSR strategies.
This is where you get to put it all into practice and market your clients as socially responsible companies.
Another strength that we digital marketers hold and is the key to many a campaign success, is that we can take seemingly any topic and make it into something fun and interesting.
Here’s how to approach the implementation:
1) Choose Your Platform
You will know where your target audience spends their time. Or if you’re new to a digital marketing account, you’ll know where to find that information.
You can then set a clear corporate social responsibility strategy that utilises the platforms your audience spends most of their time.
Of course, your platform of choice will influence your format…
2) Decide on a Format
Whether you are planning long-form educational content, videos to support your communications, creative visual content that can be shared socially or short and snappy projects to be used for PR campaigns, the format you use will impact your expected results.
In addition to selecting a format that will sit well on your chosen platforms, it’s important to ensure that everybody who wants to check on the social initiatives associated with a brand can.
Accessibility and creating inclusive content can easily fall under goal number 10 of the United Nations SDGs and is another topic I could spend ages talking about.
3) Select a Timeframe
Finally, consider a time frame for your campaigns. As with any digital marketing campaign, there will come a point where each tactic reaches a natural end-point. With that in mind, ensure a continuous supply of information with a clear communication plan that will keep engagement as high as possible.
Remember that consumers want to know what businesses are doing to make the world a better place and digital marketing is an excellent method of getting that information to them – especially considering that’s where they are looking for this type of information.
Final Thoughts on Creating a CSR Strategy
The points that I hope comes across the most from this post are:
- Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is 100% within our remit as digital marketers. We should be working with our clients or employers to ensure that we are meeting consumers where they are searching and communicating the positive impact the business(es) we represent is making to the world.
- CSR campaigns require tact and the right tone, but that doesn’t mean your digital campaigns can’t be fun and engaging!
- Consumers are searching for information online, and the way brands approach (or don’t approach) CSR is likely to impact brand sentiment and conversion rate.
- The approach to effectively communicating a brand’s CSR online isn’t dissimilar to how we would approach a more traditional organic campaign.
The scope of what does and doesn’t fall under a digital marketer’s remit seems to be getting broader and broader.
As consumers are getting more savvy and demanding, it’s important that we are supporting our clients or employers as much as possible to make the most out of their online presence. Getting to encourage businesses to look at how they can positively impact the world and helping them achieve this is an added bonus.
Sign up so you don’t miss it or get in touch if you’d like some help creating a corporate social responsibility strategy!