I’ve always said that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is tailor-made for storytelling.
By “always,” I mean in the last three or four years, and by “said,” I mean thought to myself.
Still, it’s sound logic. CSR is more important now than it’s ever been. Customers, whether they’re B2B customers or everyday consumers, are increasingly choosing companies that prioritize social and environmental issues.
It also matters for attracting talent, as people want to work for responsible companies. “Millennials, especially, want to work for companies that have a higher purpose,” said Kori Reed, a CSR consultant and executive.
But that’s not groundbreaking news. Few would argue that companies need to make CSR and purpose an integral part of their operations. Where it gets tricky is how they communicate it.
Communication Makes a Difference
A lot of companies are hesitant to talk about their CSR, for fear of it sounding self-serving or self-congratulatory. Other companies have tried and got burned because they came off as being a little too proud of themselves.
Still, I believe it’s important for companies to communicate their CSR efforts. It not only builds their brand reputations and generates goodwill, but it can also benefit the causes or issues companies support.
Reed agrees that companies’ communication efforts can really make a difference. While there might be a handful of nonprofits that are doing good work in support of a given cause, she said, they typically lack the communications resources that companies have.
“Corporations have large advertising budgets,” she said. Those budgets can make a real difference in reaching a larger audience.
She recalled an example from when she worked at Proctor & Gamble, which created a “Like a Girl” campaign. Through their consumer research, P&G found that young girls are especially vulnerable when they reach puberty.
There are several organizations devoted to advocating for girls’ health. But by uncovering an insight and devoting resources to shed light on it, P&G made a difference. “They put it in a way that made you think about how we stereotype young women.”
But if a company is going to build a communications campaign around a social cause, it’s critical that they do it right. And that’s where storytelling comes in.
Stories Create Action
Reed said that stories are what bring any cause or CSR effort to life. She recalled trying to persuade a corporate colleague to support certain issue, and she was citing numbers and figures to make her case.
Her colleague said, “I can poke holes in your numbers all day long. Tell me stories.”
By using a storytelling approach, companies can appeal to audiences on an emotional level. That not only raises awareness, but also helps to spur action.
Reed said that by telling stories around the issue, companies can rally their audiences to the cause. Seeing emotionally driven stories, people will want to know how they can help and what actions they can take.
“That’s the great part about storytelling,” she said. “It allows people to identify and relate, and then creates action.”
If you’re struggling to incorporate storytelling into your CSR communication, here are five recommendations to get you started.
Tell real, specific stories
As I said at the top of this post, CSR is tailor-made for storytelling. That’s because it’s inherently human and is based on people helping other people.
That means it’s loaded with great stories about real people and real situations. They’re highly emotional and authentic, and therefore irresistible to audiences.
Don’t shy away from those stories. Embrace them and bring them forward. No one else can.
Focus on the people “on the ground”
Whether it’s the people who are enduring the hardships that your CSR efforts help to alleviate, the volunteers and experts who are working to help, or both, those are the people your stories should focus on.
Unless your company executives are actively involved, they shouldn’t be mentioned. Your audience doesn’t care about them, and too many brand mentions will come off as self-serving.
Don’t beat your chest
Stories involving social and other issues should not be seen as an opportunity to tell the world how great your company is because you’ve donated X dollars.
There are other, more tactful ways to make those points. Certainly, you can make it easy for people to find that information, but bold-face quotes about why your company supports the cause should not be found in the stories.
Let the stories speak for themselves.
This one can be hard. It’s difficult for companies to use emotions in their content and communications. Whether it’s because of the legal department or the approval process, there’s a desire to “play it straight.”
If ever there was a place, however, to use emotions, it’s in CSR storytelling. Emotions are was make us human, and CSR is about people. Emotion-driven stories are what will get people to take notice, and maybe take action.
Help people get involved
Finally, the best result any CSR communication can hope for is to help grow a movement. If you can shine a light on a cause and generate awareness of an issue, people will want to know what they can do.
So help them. Make it easy for your audiences to donate, volunteer, or take action.
By incorporating stories and storytelling into your CSR communications, you can show you’re an organization with a heart. Your audiences, whether they are customers or employees or the general public, will notice your messages.
More importantly, telling your stories can potentially compound the impact of your company’s good work by spreading the word and rallying people to support the cause. Over time, that will align your brand with a greater sense of purpose that people appreciate.