You think you are doing it all – as a company you are killing it on the communications front. But have you considered your corporate social responsibility campaign for the year? Be it an environmental focus, what you are doing in your local community, charity work, or at the very least being authentic in your communication during times of a crisis.

Social media has given brands an incredible opportunity to partner with customers and not for profits in a highly visible way, so there community spirit and giving nature is on show for all to see. By the same token, it has also given brands enough rope to hang themselves.

The recent floods across Australia are a perfect example of companies who take CSR seriously and those that don’t. While social media may have been your friend over the last few years and taken your brand to a level you could only dream of. Social media was also many companies greatest flaw when it comes to responding during a national crisis.

Facebook was flooded; pardon the pun, with messages of companies who were hitting the streets with their army of staff to help clean up, starting a fundraising event for the flood relief, or fostering animals from the RSPCA.

But it was also flooded with messages like “Come to our workshop tomorrow night on how you can secure your financial freedom”. “What mascara will you use in 2011, try our 36 hour, water proof, curling mascara” and  “ Dreaming of a holiday, Brisbane might be flooded, but at X, it is sunny.”

While some of your customers were losing their homes, businesses and livelihood, some brands were still trying to sell sell sell and this is not the mark of genuine brand that cares about their customers.

The immediacy of social media means you can respond in real time to issues that face your audience. It also means your sensitivity, or lack thereof, will be judged. Remember If you do one thing well this year, let it be how engaged your customers are.

When being green first became the flavour of the month, smart companies looked at ways they could offer environmentally friendly products, took steps to reduce their environmental impact, designed Five Star Green Star offices, sponsored Clean Up Australia Day, and the paperless office was born. The communication mistakes that were made during the floods by companies are parallel to advocating throwing your plastic shopping bags in the ocean to kill marine life to a Green Peace audience.

PR can build your brand and by the same token it can destroy it if you don’t manage your messages and be real with your customers.

So what can you do to be real? Think about what is important to your customers and start a conversation around that in your communications, sponsor an event that celebrates the importance of this issue, take proactive steps to initiate a change in your business that will show you genuinely care and strategic CSR also allows you to have a great platform to spread your good will, while this isn’t the reason to do it, being a good corporate citizen is important to your customers and it is an important part of your PR strategy.

Whether you are a building company who installs solar panels in all of their new homes, a shopping centre who donates clothes to the back to work program for victims of domestic violence or fast food chain that provides food for the homeless – every company has a way in which they can contribute to the good of the community.

A wonderful campaign that won in the eyes of their customers, provided amazing content for good chat and lived virally for some time was the Target Bullseye Gives campaign.

Target gave away $3 million a week to support charities across America through the Bullseye Gives, a two-week-long giving campaign on its’ facebook – asking all facebook members to visit to make a powerful choice and decide how 10 national charities would receive a portion of Target’s $3 million in weekly charitable giving.

The percentage of votes per charitable organization correlated to the charities’ portion of the $3 million. All votes and dollars allocated were updated in real time on the Target facebook page. It was engaging, it created buzz, it addressed 10 different community groups that spoke to their audience and they achieved amazing international PR.

Alright so you don’t have $3 million to give away and that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that your brand makes a meaningful contribution to the community in which you exist.

So in 2011, ask yourself these things –

  • What initiatives are important to your customers and staff?
  • What type of involvement will engage your target audience?
  • What are your company’s brand values?
  • How will you get your CSR messages out to your customers and staff?
  • What is your conversational tone? Find it and stick to it.
  • Start embracing social media, as it is a great tool to speak to your community about your efforts.

Please note that this also appeared in the March 2011 edition of Dynamic Business Magazine

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