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Communicating your Corporate Social Responsibility Efforts to Reach the Right Audience

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There is no question corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities continue to cement themselves as key aspects of doing business today. Whether its an emerging startup or an old titan, a business’ impact on the environment and society is a critical factor affecting performance.

But who are companies trying to reach with these activities, and how do these audiences find out about a business’ CSR efforts?

Watching and reviewing these activities are a wide range of stakeholders, each seeking a slightly different insight from CSR activities. Despite the variety of stakeholders, however, companies continue to rely on a one-size-fits-all communication tool – the annual Sustainability Report. These deep dive, data rich reports are packed with metrics, stories, impact analysis and other detailed plans that outline a company’s CSR programs. The level of detail and sheer quantity of information is not desired by every stakeholder. The annual Sustainability report is valuable – but not to everyone.

To develop a CSR communications plan, I arrange the stakeholders (your audience) across a spectrum. On the left end are the data driven, fact finders that are verifying your work, and on the right end are the dreamers and believers looking for a vision and story of hope to rally behind. Across this spectrum, I map four critical stakeholders – watchdogs, investors, employees and customers. Based on their placement on the spectrum, you can determine what kind of information they are looking for and how they want it packaged.

Communications Spectrum


Watchdog organizations provide an oversight and verification function. They are the primary consumer of annual Sustainability reports. Data and analysis provide evidence of impact which watchdog groups are looking to verify. Charts and graphs, specific local partners and testimonials all support a company’s claims and demonstrate their tangible positive impact through CSR programs.


Investors still love their data, but when it comes to CSR they are looking for the concisely articulated business case for CSR efforts. Without the level of detail on who and how provided in Sustainability reports, investors are looking for what CSR efforts have done to help improve business performance. There are a growing number of socially responsible investors that care about a company’s CSR programs, but they need to see the outcomes of those efforts tied back to the business. Has the recycling and waste reduction program improved efficiency? Has volunteering helped improve employee recruitment and retention? Have nonprofit cause marketing partnerships increased product sales? Some of these answers may be in the annual Sustainability, but to reach this audience the answers are best included in investor briefs and annual reports where investors already look.


Employees are the heart of a business and as such they need passion to help fuel the company culture. Moving more firmly to the right side of the spectrum, employees look less to data points and more to commitments and tangible opportunities to draw their inspiration. Rather than reporting on what was done last month, focus on what is being planned for coming month and who will be there to inspire the group. CEO and leadership messages that deliver both a “why this is important” message and a commitment to join the efforts motivate employees.


Consumers, and the general public at-large, are a much more elusive audience to capture. While they may be familiar with your brand, may even prefer your brand, they are not going to deep dive into data reports to understand what CSR commitments and activities you have undertaken. Interacting with a consumer needs to happen in the places they are already at, like packing on a store shelf product or commercials on the channels they watch. Then, in these momentary encounters, the message needs to be concise, relevant and obvious. If you want consumers to know you have working on a responsibility, sustainable supply chain, then a Fair-Trade certification label on a product is a clear, quick way to send that message. This one label has already built a brand for itself that pulls at the heartstrings as people learned to “Follow the Frog” to protect precious natural resources. Or let your CEO lead by adding a human element that personalizes that brand and embodies the commitments the business is making – think Richard Branson doing everything from investing with purpose on Shark Tank to volunteering in underserved communities. Consumer want to consume stories of hope that are rooted in your good work as a company and authentic to your brand.

These are not all of the stakeholders that want to know and can benefit from knowing about a company’s CSR efforts. But, hopefully, the communications spectrum approach will help CSR and communications teams work together to more effectively develop messages to reach each audience. While the annual Sustainability report is a valuable asset, it can not be the sole communications tool to engage, educate and drive positive impact from your business’ CSR programs.

Originally published on LinkedIn:

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