Friday, October 30, 2015

Should Your Company 'Brag' About Its Good Deeds?

A news release about local hospital caught my eye as I was trolling news apps and social media. "Metro Health Named One of the Greenest Hospitals in America" was the proud headline.

There is no doubt that organizations of every stripe issue news releases to tout their success. There are even special newsfeed like CSRWire dedicated to being a clearing house for news about various forms of Corporate Social Responsibility, a hot topic in public relations for years now.

But I got to thinking about this one given some recent research I read about what consumers want to know about companies' CSR. Yes, it would seem to be good for consumers to know that companies are doing "good" in addition to just making and offering good products and services. But is it seedy for companies to toot their own horn?

CSR was the topic of a 2014 special issue of PR Journal, published and available for free online at PRSA.org. One of the articles asked my question exactly: "Public Expectations of CSR Communication: What and How to Communicate CSR."

The results are interesting and helpful to PR academics who want to further research this area, as well as to PR practitioners who can use the study to be more nuanced and strategic in the ways they share their company's and clients' CSR activities.

Here's a breakdown:

  • consumers want mostly to know "who is benefiting" from the CSR activity. So PR pros should not write to make corporations central to the story, but to tell stories of improved lives or environments;
  • as far as sources of information, consumers preferred most to hear directly from beneficiaries, with the CEO or PR spokesperson the least preferred. In general, non-corporate sources were preferred over corporate representatives. So PR pros should quote or otherwise give voice to the publics their CSR efforts helped, and let the CEO and themselves be silent or a minimal part of the story;
  • in somewhat of a surprise, consumers liked to hear about CSR more from company controlled media like annual reports, social media, web sites, newsletters and so on as opposed to news media or expert blogs. My guess is this is as much about accountability and detailed information than it is about a particular source preference. But it is worth noting.
So the bottom line is that the news release I saw may be ok, since it was directly from the company and in fact quoted a third-party ranking of the hospital's green efforts, and it stressed the community benefit. 

For everyone else, don't play faux humility about CSR efforts, but also don't be too self-righteous. Strive for that middle ground where the company is in the background and the beneficiary is the star. Also, don't think media relations is the best when consumers are looking to your "owned" media for CSR information.

When it comes to doing good, it really is nice to share.

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