CSR takes a social twist

Companies are advancing CSR initiatives - and creating growth - through use of social media

With the after effects of the global financial crisis still being felt by many businesses and communities some companies are starting to evaluate their role in society and finding that integrating broad-based CSR and social media programs into everyday business practices may offer real opportunities for growth.

According to a new report, ‘Just good business: Incorporating corporate social responsibility with social media,’ issued by Research and Markets, a research firm based in Ireland, business turbulence, institutional failures and economic turmoil have brought forward the interconnectedness of people, business and government.

With recent business failures like Lehman Brothers, Fannie Mae/ Freddie Mac, and Satyam triggering investigations into the role of business within the societies and the environments that they operate in, boards have started revamping their corporate social responsibility techniques to create a solid framework of social, economic and environmental needs, the report said.

‘CSR is growing into a more formal activity and organizations are integrating social and environmental actions to business operations,’ says the research firm. ‘It can involve a variety of tools such as donation, volunteering, employee matching and socially conscious business investments that drive business value.’

The study further states that in order to improve CSR initiatives and engage stakeholders, organizations are turning to sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube to monitor audience reaction and help advance CSR activities.

‘Organizations are promoting strategies and programs that build social capital to stakeholders that matter including employees, partners and customers, while ensuring that CSR projects have business value,’ the report claims.

Companies like Cisco and Kraft have created ‘social media communities’ to help enhance their CSR efforts. Cisco recently released its online ‘social media playbook,’ which allows employees and customers to understand social practices while contributing to the environment. Similarly, Kraft launched its own initiative that includes customized recipe applications for iPad, which encourages children and parents to create a meal together.   
 
While some may find this strategic social initiative appealing, others are calling for  social media employment policies to help employees exercise good judgment and minimize the possibility of inadvertently tarnishing a company’s reputation.

Alyson Brown, an attorney at the Texas based law firm, Clouse Dunn Khoshbin says that statistics prove that since its initiation, Facebook is now home to over 500 million users (more than the population of the US), LinkedIn claims to have more than 50 million users and Twitter with 75 million.

‘With increased social media activity, several risks arise from employee use of social networking sites that could expose a company to liability for discrimination or defamation, or loss of proprietary information,’ says Brown.

Along with this new wave of communication as a CSR strategy, Brown suggests that companies should implement specific guidelines that identify employees who are authorized to make posts to be attributed to the company, and the boundaries for acceptable content of 'official' company posts.

‘There is no ‘one size fits all’ policy. Instead, an effective policy should be carefully tailored to each employer’s needs and objectives.’

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