Section 5: Communicating using traditional and digital Tools

Section 5: Communicating using traditional and digital Tools

“Section 5: Communicating using traditional and digital Tools”
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  • 5. Communicating using traditional and digital tools > CSR-washing > What to keep in mind ?
  • 5. Communicating using traditional and digital tools > CSR-washing > What to keep in mind ?
  • 5. Communicating using traditional and digital tools > Recommendations > Some recommendations
  • 5. Communicating using traditional and digital tools > Recommendations > What to keep in mind?
  • 5. Communicating using traditional and digital tools > Advertising and packaging > Use of advertising
  • 5. Communicating using traditional and digital tools > Advertising and packaging > CSR ad credibility
  • 5. Communicating using traditional and digital tools > Advertising and packaging > Use of humor
  • 5. Communicating using traditional and digital tools > Advertising and packaging > Use of infomercials
  • 5. Communicating using traditional and digital tools > Advertising and packaging > The role of CSR labels
  • 5. Communicating using traditional and digital tools > Advertising and packaging > What to keep in mind?
  • 5. Communicating using traditional and digital tools > Digital tools > Experts' opinions
  • 5. Communicating using traditional and digital tools > Digital tools > What to keep in mind?
  • 5. Communicating using traditional and digital tools > Conclusion > Conclusion and forthcoming

5. Communicating using traditional and digital tools > CSR-washing > What to keep in mind ?

  • CSR-washing is when a company spends more time and money claiming to be committed to sustainable development than actually implementing business practices that minimize its environmental and social impacts.
  • These sorts of communications are a form of pollution, from ethical and economic points of view.
  • A group of Danish authors recently wrote, and I quote, that a “Lack of accuracy in organizational messages – including inconsistencies between what organizations say and what they do – may be an important driver of organizational and social change, because such differences have potential to raise expectations and apply pressure on organizational actors to improve their practices”.
  • I am not saying that businesses can use alibis; organizations have to look for a concrete and accurate application of CSR. But provocative thinking along these lines also helps us remember that CSR is an infinite process, constantly in flux, rather than a state that anyone can achieve, once and for all.
  • Here, communication and PR professionals refer to more than just CSR, to consider ways to be responsible in communication activity itself.
  • A French manual recommends a dedication to telling the truth; efforts to produce communication supports and materials that are responsible from an environmental and social point of view; and, finally, engagement to integrate stakeholders rather than viewing them as communication “targets”.
  • CSR-washing, or greenwashing, is when a company’s communication misleads consumers about its socially responsible practices or the social and environmental benefits of its products or services.

5. Communicating using traditional and digital tools > CSR-washing > What to keep in mind ?

  • Greenwashing suggests the idea that a company disseminates false or incomplete information so that it can appear socially and environmentally responsible, more so than it actually is.
  • Consider three examples: First, Terrachoice -which has joined Underwriters Laboratories’ global network to provide environmental services to companies.
  • Terrachoice describes seven sins of greenwashing: One, the hidden trade-off, which suggests a product is “green” based on a narrow set of attributes, without acknowledging other important environmental issues.
  • Five, Irrelevance, in which case the environmental claim may be truthful, but it is unimportant or unhelpful for consumers seeking environmentally preferable products.
  • Six, The lesser of two evils, such that the claims may be true within the product category, but they seek to distract the consumer from the greater environmental impacts of the category as a whole.
  • Finally, the third will be Greenpeace’s website where they actively confronts deceptive campaigns, engages companies in debate, and attempts to give consumers, activists, and lawmakers information so that they can confront corporate deception too.
  • Two, Ad Bluster: Using targeted advertising and public relations campaigns to exaggerate an environmental achievement in order to divert attention away from environmental problems or if it spends more money advertising an environmental achievement than actually doing it.
  • Three, Political Spin: Advertising or speaking about corporate “green” commitments while lobbying against pending or current environmental laws and regulations.
  • This is not to suggest CSR-washing practices are ideal: They tend to create confusion for consumers and are generally associated with lower consumer trust in corporate communications in general, as well as increased skepticism toward CSR communications in particular.
  • Consumer confusion is associated with uncertainty, anxiety, puzzlement, and indecision, which suggests that their purchase process becomes inefficient and frustrating.
  • Greenwashing has risks for companies -not least in the form of increasing denunciations by activists and concerned citizens.

5. Communicating using traditional and digital tools > Recommendations > Some recommendations

  • Provide clear and concrete information about how you have realized CSR outcomes.
  • Consistently refer to the reasons for the communication, your CSR strategy, and the link with your company’s values and goals.
  • Always cite a website or page that provides further, updated information about your CSR projects.
  • I noted a few of the things that companies should keep in mind when communicating previously.
  • Just as a reminder, the primary objective of CSR communication should be to tell, not to sell.
  • Because these communications say something about the values and character of the company, they need to acknowledge audiences’ sensitivities.
  • Finally, the company needs some CSR experience first.
  • Remember, communication must be supported by facts, and companies should be able to back up their claims.
  • Talking about CSR actions isn’t enough; companies must illustrate those actions with concrete examples.
  • I also think that for CSR communication to be successful, it needs to break through the clutter.
  • The result was a very emotional advertisement that tells a clear story about sustainable farming and the company’s CSR engagement.

5. Communicating using traditional and digital tools > Recommendations > What to keep in mind?

  • Even companies that engage seriously in CSR need to worry that stakeholders might develop some cynical perceptions of them.
  • How can these companies communicate effectively about their CSR activities in a marketplace where a profusion of CSR claims, both well-founded and not, appear? In line with the shared knowledge you have acquired thus far, consider some key recommendations for credible CSR communication.
  • Consider these recommendations as food for thought First, communicate internally first: Employees are a primary target, because they are directly concerned with and involved in CSR activities, and because they interact with external stakeholders, whether officially or unofficially, in spontaneous and planned conversations.
  • Working together with stakeholders is absolutely necessary to co-create better and more credible CSR strategies and communication.
  • Be relevant: Companies need to communicate about the material issues that are connected specifically to their purpose, values, and core business, as well as with their stakeholders’ unique expectations.
  • Rather, each organization faces a unique set of CSR issues that is specific to the industry in which it operates, its size, its geographical location, and other such factors.
  • For a pharmaceutical company for example, stakeholders expect information about the company’s stance on animal testing or how the company is helping prevent contamination of water systems by unused drugs.
  • For a fast-food company, stakeholders expect efforts to address obesity-related issues, rather than necessarily philanthropic activities in the field of environmental protection.
  • Be transparent and honest: The available information should enable stakeholders to develop a complete, unbiased picture of the company and its activities.
  • Companies must disclose information that is useful, relevant, and pertinent to their stakeholders, using clear, unambiguous communications that are easy to understand.
  • Do not claim to be best-in-class: CSR is a never-ending journey, which means it is always possible to do more and do it better in terms of positive contributions to society.
  • Be positive and creative: Just because companies communicate about serious societal issues does not mean that the tone of the communication has to be serious, austere, or moralizing.
  • Thus, it is high time for companies to get creative and communicate about CSR differently, in a positive way.
  • Do not spend more to communicate than to act: Stakeholders find it problematic when the company spends a lot of money on CSR promotions.
  • If the corporation is committed to CSR, stakeholders expect companies to spend more on actual CSR initiatives than on talking about them.
  • By learning from their previous mistakes and rigorously applying clear communication guidelines and regulations, while also using third-party accreditations, managers can begin to ensure greater stakeholder engagement through more efficient, more credible communication.

5. Communicating using traditional and digital tools > Advertising and packaging > Use of advertising

  • There also are risks involved with making promises in these widespread channels, especially if statements in an advertisement might be contradicted by other information in social or mass media.
  • Some companies just choose not to advertise their CSR, even if they practice it.
  • I advise capitalizing on CSR with paid ads if doing so brings a competitive advantage.
  • In industries with wide media exposures, such as the textiles or the technological devices, it can be risky to take a CSR stance.
  • If that stance is solid and honest, it can probably help increase the companies’ new market shares.
  • In my opinion, ads are not the best communication tools to present CSR activities.
  • Having said that, it’s also possible to underline one particular CSR characteristic of a product or service in an ad. Then you can focus on the clear and proven benefits of this characteristic.

5. Communicating using traditional and digital tools > Advertising and packaging > CSR ad credibility

  • The answer here is twofold: the credibility of the source, and then the two-step flow.
  • Audiences usually pay less than 5 seconds’ worth of active attention to mass media advertisements, according to extensive research.
  • Early research showed, clearly and consistently, that less than 5% of people exposed to an advertisement in a magazine read the accompanying texts or body copy-you know, those small explanations or calls to action located usually at the bottom of the advertisement.
  • By high levels, I mean exposing people effectively, at least 3 to 5 times per month, to the same advertisement for at least 3 to 6 consecutive months, which would demand an investment of /- 500,000 to 1,500,000 €, and that just in Belgium Conclusion? The credibility of the source is crucial, so advertising should clearly mention the name and position of an expert or give clear information about references or error margins.
  • I would say that pretty much everything in an advertisement influences the credibility of CSR-related claims.
  • Consumers know that companies use advertisements to portray themselves in the best possible light and tend to embellish reality.
  • Although advertising can be a good way for a company to communicate about its CSR activities with its consumers, it needs to create these advertisements very carefully.
  • When talking about advertising appeals, we can distinguish between rational appeals, which present factual information in a straightforward way, and more emotional appeals, which seek to elicit consumers’ feelings of joy, fear, guilt, or laughter.
  • Some prior research suggests that all CSR communication should be factual and avoid the impression of “bragging,” but I don’t think emotional appeals are necessarily less appropriate.
  • Which type of appeal is more appropriate, and works better to increase the credibility of the CSR advertisement, may depend on various other factors, such as the product category involved.
  • The type of appeal definitely influences the credibility of a CSR advertisement.
  • Even the color used in the advertisement plays a role-and the color green in particular.
  • Which actually reflects the idea that a company disseminates false or incomplete information, to appear more socially and environmentally responsible than it really is.
  • Finally, the claims themselves obviously affect the credibility of a CSR advertisement.
  • As I said before, another key is the presence of reliable third-party evaluators, who testify about the CSR behavior of the organization, and the presence of well-known independent labels.

5. Communicating using traditional and digital tools > Advertising and packaging > Use of humor

  • An interesting trend in CSR ommunication is the increasing use of humor.
  • In the past few years, brands such as Audi, Chiquita, Pedigree, and Timberland have developed humorous advertising campaigns, which may be more attention-grabbing and also enhance consumers’ positive affects and attitudes towards the advertisement and the brand.
  • Using humor to communicate about CSR therefore has some advantages, but it is not without risks.
  • Using humor contrasts with the serious, sometimes even moralizing tone that companies traditionally adopted to communicate about their CSR activities.
  • Using humor may also be risky, given the non-humorous nature of CSR issues.
  • Recent research shows that in some cases humor generates negative feelings and triggers negative consumer reactions.
  • Little is known about the exact effects of humor in CSR communication, but there are a few recommendations that could nonetheless be made.
  • Companies should ensure that their audiences can understand the humor, and quickly.
  • They also should make the relationship between their CSR message and the humor used very clear.
  • Sympathetic humor might be more appropriate than more aggressive types of humor.
  • The use of humor is probably more appropriate when companies already have a good CSR track record or are well-known for their CSR engagement, like Ben & Jerry’s for instance and Timberland.
  • Humor is important to virtually any communication, because it can create a sense of shared values.
  • So humor can be particularly useful for public communication campaigns that try to teach something to the public.
  • Some humor is critical, like satirical campaigns by Greenpeace.
  • As Mathieu Jahnich wrote some years ago, regardless of its type, humor evokes two important risks: misunderstanding and legitimacy.
  • If the public does not understand the humor, it cannot lead to positive results.
  • If humor is not coherent with the preexisting legitimacy of the organization, it is unlikely to succeed.
  • When using humor to influence behaviors, the organization also needs to describe some practical, concrete steps that the listeners can take.

5. Communicating using traditional and digital tools > Advertising and packaging > Use of infomercials

  • Infomercials are part of the communication platform that any companies eager to present their CSR strategy should build.
  • An infomercial gives you a bit more time, compared with a regular advertisement, to explain what’s at stake for your company and how you have engaged.
  • So infomercials do appear particularly well suited for CSR communication.
  • Second, infomercials contain more detailed information than traditional TV advertisements.
  • Third, infomercials tend to use credible endorsers more regularly than TV ads do, and they usually feature testimonials.
  • All of these elements favor the use of infomercials to communicate about CSR. But just like regular advertising, infomercials can include false or misleading claims.
  • Infomercials, when produced by the CSR company itself, suffer the same potential issues we talked about previously, that is, of skepticism and resistance to persuasion.
  • I suspect that television and radio are better channels, instead of print, because they are more likely to draw and retain attention to infomercials.
  • The risk of using TV or radio instead of print for CSR infomercials is the superficiality of the process.
  • When a TV viewer remains passive, it’s unlikely that an infomercial can change her or his attitudes toward the product.

5. Communicating using traditional and digital tools > Advertising and packaging > The role of CSR labels

  • So the risk of consumer confusion is growing accordingly, which may be detrimental to product credibility, and could increase skepticism, and also might have a negative effect on sales.
  • CSR labels are not easy to get and demand a lot of administrative work, to document all the firm’s processes from a CSR point of view.
  • Some companies like YellowEvents choose to be more socially responsible rather than to communicate more about CSR. Just to take one example, Eurobarometer data indicate that people in Europe trust scientists and environmentalists more than businesses when it comes to information about environmental issues.
  • Eco-labels and fair trade labels can influence consumers’ attitudes and product choices, though only if consumers actually notice the labels and understand their meaning.
  • Some exploratory studies that we already have undertaken in our research centers at UCL and IESEG suggest that the effectiveness of CSR labels also depend on company-specific and consumer-specific factors.
  • The presence of CSR labels, whether by a third-party or the company itself, cannot have a strong enough effect to counter these consumers’ initial negative perceptions and reactions.
  • If a company with a well-established, positive CSR record communicates about its CSR activities, consumers do not confront any inconsistent information, and the CSR label could reinforce the credibility of the claim.
  • In terms of consumer-specific factors, consumers’ personal support for a specific social or environmental issue covered by the CSR labels and the degree of consumer skepticism are both influential.
  • When highly skeptical consumers examine advertising claims critically and refuse to accept them at face value, CSR labels, particularly those from third parties, could have a greater influence on convincing them of the truthfulness and verifiability of the claims.

5. Communicating using traditional and digital tools > Advertising and packaging > What to keep in mind?

  • Consumers appear particularly sensitive to CSR. A two thousand and fifteen survey of ten thousands citizens in ten countries by Cone & Ebiquity reported that ninety-one percent of global consumers expect companies to act responsibly.
  • According to the same study, advertising is the third most effective communication channel to reach consumers with CSR messages, after information on product packaging and local media reports.
  • So in addition to corporate responsibility reporting and corporate websites dedicated to CSR, companies use traditional advertising channels, including televised commercials, magazine or billboard advertisements, and product packaging to project a certain CSR image to consumers, in which they disclose social or environmental programs, actions, or stances, whether linked to a specific product or not.
  • Advertising repeats the key message multiple times, which is often critical for building credibility and recall and also should contribute to shaping or modifying consumers’ attitudes toward the company, its products or services, and its CSR activities.
  • Increasingly cynical consumers appear suspicious of overly positive claims, and a radio or TV ad rarely offers enough time for them to elaborate on and process the complex or nuanced messages that generally are required for CSR communication.
  • Finally, managers should try to create conditions that allow them to place their CSR actions in context and communicate appropriately with different audiences, depending on their level of familiarity with CSR. In CSR advertising and product packaging for example, companies might prompt audiences to visit their digital channels, which can deliver more elaborated content.
  • Specific information that details the impacts of the firm’s CSR initiatives then can help consumers and other stakeholders distinguish between firms that are really committed to CSR and those that simply pay lip service or seek to opportunistically exploit the concept.

5. Communicating using traditional and digital tools > Digital tools > Experts’ opinions

  • Websites also are the right places to develop different axes of your CSR strategy, demonstrate work in progress, and let your stakeholders talk about your engagement.
  • To my mind, social media are useful and powerful if you are willing to enter into real conversations with influencers, clients, and consumers.
  • A community manager needs to be the expert in the company’s CSR policy so that he or she can answer the public accurately and with great responsiveness.
  • Another recommendation for enhancing understanding is to use new media to engage customers in initiatives linked to CSR. These channels ease the interaction and allow the company to reach new and different stakeholders.
  • New customers often look for information before making decisions, and they rely on their social networks more than on advertising.
  • I think less “mono-logical” or one-way communication might be an interesting way to improve CSR communication.
  • As businesses slowly adapt to this communication environment, they also are tackling CSR. A recent study in France said that CSR and patronage are two of the subjects that businesses discuss most frequently on social media.
  • To make social media work, an organization needs to define and prepare its presence carefully, adapting to different social media platforms, communities, and groups.
  • Twitter is useful for getting in touch with and monitoring influential people, but Facebook tends to make fun and entertainment more important.
  • Overall, based on different authors, I think that the tone organizations use to discuss their CSR on social media should be humble, non-triumphant, informal, non-hierarchical, and open to some reciprocity.
  • Well, social media push us to be innovative and creative in our communications.
  • Forums, Facebook, and Twitter are very useful for presenting and debating ideas with stakeholders.
  • The biggest risk with digital media is the creation of bad buzz or a digital crisis if the CSR communication lacks solid foundations.
  • Managers need to watch social media content carefully, to monitor people’s reactions to their communication initiatives or to detect and manage potential reputation crises.
  • Digital tools are getting more and more professional, which means they require more specific skills and greater investments of time and therefore money! Some decision makers thought-and maybe still think- that managing a Facebook page is something that can be done in a matter of minutes by young assistants, after just preparing them with a cup of morning coffee.
  • Digital tools need to be advertised and supported with more traditional tools, mostly mass media.
  • The typical two-step sequence in this case would be to start by advertising your Facebook page or website to make them known, and then attracting audiences and exposing them to the content on those pages.

5. Communicating using traditional and digital tools > Digital tools > What to keep in mind?

  • The advent of the Web 2.0 introduced an array of social media tools to stakeholders, supporting novel ways of interacting, sharing, and connecting through the Internet.
  • Social media allow companies to inform, listen to, monitor, respond to, and engage with a vast range of stakeholders.
  • In particular, because social media are mobile and web-based applications, they enable the creation and exchange of user‐generated content, on social networking sites like Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, content sharing sites such as YouTube, user- or company-sponsored blogs such as LabTalk by AstraZeneca, company-sponsored cause sites, including Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, or collaborative websites, mainly Wikipedia.
  • Social media thus also illustrate the need for transparency and authenticity in establishing and retaining relationships with stakeholders.
  • Social media offer a compelling solution to get stakeholders involved in the mutual construction of a CSR strategy and communication.
  • Through virtual CSR dialogues, stakeholders also can contribute to the design of CSR programs, such as determining which social or environmental issues to address, how to allocate funds among alternative recipients, which non-profit organizations the company should partner with, and so on.
  • Such two-way conversations also give stakeholders an opportunity to debate whether a company has identified the most relevant environmental and social issues, or a place to brainstorm about appropriate responses to the issues.
  • site, stakeholders submit, comment, and vote on ideas for possible CSR initiatives; people’s votes reflect their views on potential CSR initiatives.
  • These platforms provide opportunities for stakeholders to advocate for a cause, spread the word, and share their experiences with a CSR program.
  • Virtual CSR dialogues also can solicit stakeholder assistance in co-creating messages or finding the most appropriate or receptive audience for company-generated CSR communication, like reports and advertising.
  • Social media offer an opportunity to re-invent relations with stakeholders and strengthen their engagement.
  • When configured correctly, virtual CSR dialogues thus offer promise as a means to foster strong, enduring relationships with and among stakeholders.
  • By keeping dialogues open with various stakeholders, companies develop a further understanding of and confidence in commitment to the concept of CSR. Leveraging CSR in social media can strengthen stakeholders’ trust, encourage followers and their friends to take action and participate, and create an echo effect for the brand, such that people pick up its messages and relay them to others.

5. Communicating using traditional and digital tools > Conclusion > Conclusion and forthcoming

  • We are at the end of the fifth module of this course on “Communicating Corporate Social Responsibility,” which means you already have confronted a large and varied set of communication tools that can be used to talk about CSR issues.
  • Still others, such as social media, enable the company to enter in a real dialogue and co-create its CSR strategy with important stakeholders; Second, it is critical, but also incredibly challenging, to maintain coherence across the different CSR messages that can be diffused through different channels to different stakeholders , who have different CSR expectations; Third, companies can leverage a vast array of factors to increase the credibility of their CSR communication and avoid being accused of CSR-washing.
  • These factors include content-specific factors such as the degree of congruence between CSR issues and the company’s core business; company-specific factors such as the company’s reputation; and consumer-specific factors including the level of consumer support for the CSR issues at stake.
  • We also discussed the role of the format and tone of the communication, such as in the case of companies using humor or infomercials or adding a CSR label to present their CSR messages.
  • In the next and final module, we will investigate consumers’ reactions to CSR activities and communications.
  • ” We also will welcome François Dessart, who recently completed his doctoral degree with a dissertation about the barriers and catalysts to consumers’ acceptance of products with CSR attributes, using a novel signaling perspective.
  • Are you ready for this final step in our CSR journey? Here we go!

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