Strategy, Leadership & Development

Three Questions That Will Change How You View CSR Reports

5 months ago

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Three Questions That Will Change How You View CSR Reports

As you may have read in my CSR strategy post, communication is key to value creation.

When done properly, CSR should benefit society while also benefiting the company.

The problem is, it often isn’t done properly.

All too often, companies produce mediocre CSR reports and think they’ve done enough to tick the communication box.

But they haven’t.

CSR Reports Are Dead | Jason Wicks

The truth about CSR reports

In my view, CSR reports aren’t innately bad. After all, they’re a pretty good way to collate loads of data and information and give it to consumers in one handy package.

But, they’re often used improperly, and ignored.

Generally speaking, CSR reports are seen as the default communication method, and that’s the problem.

As many articles have alluded to, effective communication needs to be directly tailored, depending on context.

Companies shouldn’t just produce a generic report and expect their work to be done. After all, when every company is doing the same thing, it’s no surprise that very few consumers actually take notice.

In my experience, I’d say that over 90% of CSR reports have more pages than readers.

That’s a massive problem, because it’s stopping socially responsible companies from engaging with consumers. When consumers aren’t engaged, firms don’t benefit from an improved reputation. That means that the balance between social and financial prosperity is not struck.

What companies need to do

Despite this, it’s not all doom and gloom.

Companies and CSR professionals just need to rethink how they communicate.

To do this, I think you need to simply ask yourself 3 very simple questions.

Once you’ve done so, I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of you would agree that CSR reports aren’t the best option.

1. What message do I want to tell?

CSR Reports | Jason Wicks

This is definitely the first question you need to ask yourself.

Way too many CSR reports do little more than tell stakeholders that the financial year has ended.

On top of that, most companies write these reports as if they’re writing some sort of exam.

We’ve all been there. We think that if we just write as much as we possibly can, the person marking it will be able to find some snippets of value.

The thing is, that might have got you through your exams, but it won’t make you a master of CSR communication.

After all, nobody is being paid to read through your CSR reports. It’s nobody’s sole job.

Because of that, communication is only effective when you have a specific (and interesting) message to share. CSR reports don’t lend themselves to that level of specificity. They are more suited to breadth than depth, and that’s worth remembering.

2. Who is interested in my message?

CSR Reports | Jason Wicks

It’s one thing to have a message to share, it’s another thing entirely to find people that will listen to it.

Too often, companies and professionals would answer this question with ‘our stakeholders’ or ‘our customers’. Realistically, that’s nowhere near good enough.

It’s impossible to group so many unique and individual people into such a generic label.

The truth is, they’ll be lots of customers who couldn’t care less about CSR, and you’ll need to engage with them in a very different way to those who are fully invested.

What CSR reports do is tempt companies into grouping everybody together, hoping that all stakeholders will find something that they’re interested in.

A better approach is to work in reverse. Don’t create a report and then find a way to get it in front of people. Try to learn as much as possible about your stakeholders, and work out exactly how you can share your message with them.

3. How do my audience want to receive my message?

CSR Reports | Jason Wicks

So you’ve got your message and you’ve got your audience, now what?

Well, now you need to find the platform that can bring the two together.

This is unfortunately the final hurdle that many companies fall at.

As we all know, consumers are very different now thanks to the rise of the internet and social media. We all want instant gratification. With Google we’re used to having the answer to any question at our fingertips, and CSR communicators need to catch up with that.

If you can only get information from an 86 page report, literally nobody will bother. Instead, consumers are after snappy social media posts, quick viral video content, and eyecatching infographics.

While this may all sound very obvious, it’s amazing how often it’s ignored.

For me, a key reason for this is resources and a lack of collaboration. In big companies especially, social media and traditional marketing departments have their own priorities and targets. Unless CSR is deeply embedded in your organisation, spreading CSR messages is usually met with some reluctance.

That usually leaves CSR teams having to work it out for themselves, and with resources often limited, that leads to writing up a report and shoving it somewhere deep in the corporate website.

However, when corporations overcome these problems, the results are great. For best practice, look at M&S, who have just launched a podcast that includes their various sustainability/CSR efforts.

By being creative, companies can engage with consumers, and benefit massively as a result.

Summary

So, if you’ve asked yourself these three questions and still think that CSR reports are the best communication method, then that’s fine!

All the matters is that companies are being strategic with communication and not just accepting traditional reports as the ‘default’. By working through these three questions, companies can create far more engaging content, and put themselves in a position to benefit from an increased corporate reputation.

Finally, while this post has hopefully highlighted the shortfalls of traditional methods, that doesn’t mean they have no purpose whatsoever. After all, there will be some stakeholders that want to learn about specific projects and data, and a well organised report can help them do that.

All I’m saying is that you should think broader when it comes to communication. Use a variety of platforms and methods to engage with different people, as a diverse combination will most likely bring you the most success.

Hi! I’m an author and blogger within the fields of social impact and responsible business. I believe that businesses can be a force for good in the world, and this website contains my thoughts on how that can work.

2 Comments
  1. Scott Cameron

    I agree with your comments - from a communications perspective. Here as bassa Social Innovations, we think there is something critical missing from CSR reports that we've read...what has been the impact of the investment? Companies maintain critical information through KPIs on their business investments, but all too often watch their community investments leave the front door with no idea how those investments have made an impact on individuals, their families or the community through the recipient organization. Imagine the power of the CSR message if that were communicated.

  2. Unmesh Sheth

    Good Impact Report is a communication tool used to convey the change created by an organization or activity. It is not just about creating a report that tells quantitative and qualitative stories. The process should start with Theory of change with Goals (ideally aligned with Sustainable Development Goals & Targets) aligned with well-defined outcome and output. The organization should validate results through well-defined outcome evidence.

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