IMC and CSR in social media – a potent cocktail

As promised last week I have been looking into how Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) and social media can be combined in order to create the optimal conditions for CSR communication. If one looks at CSR as the ability and willingness of an organisation to engage with its stakeholders in an effort to understand and possible meet their needs the Social media can play a central role. On the other hand if the organisation only looks upon social media as a way to get the “message across” then they will only venture down the path of failure and possible ridicule at least among the people who use the media in a professional manor.

In short is IMC is the integration of all the communication of the organisation into one single message. The definition might seem very simple but it is the application of this basic principle, which most companies struggle. The main issue is that when organisation tries to coordinate their communication into one single voice they often do so by limiting the number of channels. This has the apparent advantage of maintaining control but at the same time it reduces and to some extent eliminates the advantages to an IMC approach.

To add to this complexity we have seen a raise of new media, which put even more demands on organisations and their ability to communicate. Social media means just that that they at their core are social they demand that organisation communicate with and not only inform their stakeholders.

Social media comes in all sizes and shapes and if you are a person under 50 there is a overwhelming chance that you are part of the social media sphere on one of the platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter or one of the many private platforms which are provided on state or corporate level. While you might not have signed up for one of these platforms you there is a high probability that you have been watching videos on YouTube, looked for information on Wikipedia or made a call using Skype, either way you are connected. For the very same reason companies and organisations are very anxious to get access to these media in order to sell products or improve their brand. Most of these companies, however, look at the media in much the same way as advertising and while this approach is “easy” it is at the same time ineffective. Again…Social media means Social so you need to take that serious.

So what do you do with this media if you can’t use the traditional tools to effectively communicate? Well for one you need to comprehend the scope of the media not only in terms of potential clients but also all the other people who will be listening in. This also means that you need to think about suppliers, employees and their families, friends, critical voices, management, the corporate board, the local community, politics and politicians, the list is long.

Even the most effective and well-staffed organisation can’t nurture all their stakeholders all the time and the good thing is that they do not have to if they are able to understand and use IMC to their ends. Ones you have found out the What, Why, How and When your next step in the process is to understand the media its possibilities and limits. I have compiled a list of subjects that your organisation needs to consider.

Listen and Learn – As much as social media is a possibility to get in contact with your most important stakeholders it is also a place from where you can listen and learn to their advice. This does not mean that you have to do everything that they suggests but it gives you the possibility to find out what is the hot topics around your organisation. Make sure that you do not only have one channel to listen from but be active in groups which are discussing some of the same issues and concerns that you are also dealing with. So for example if you are in the freight forwarder business you might be interested in alternatives to fossil fuels, cargo space optimisation, Supply chain management issues, politics around airports, Human resources and management development, etc. All these subjects have hundreds of interest groups and offer a great possibility to learn what is going on and maybe get a few ideas along the way.

Lead – Do not be to humble around your business or organisation you have to lead the way. You might thin that there are others who in many was have more resources and have bigger organisational structures but on the Internet none of this matters. Here you can lead even though you are representing just a few people. Leading means that you take up subjects which interest you and that you engage in discussions when they arise. You come up for suggestions for positive change (meaning constructive criticism) and take new parameter into the debate when it halts. You keep you “corporate” image at a safe distance, as you otherwise might come across as a corporate “lap-dog”. People will know who you are and the place you work at from goggling or other means of investigation based on what you say and if they think you are interesting to listen too. It is not that you should keep it a secret where your come from as this might be interpreted as being dishonest just do not overplay your cards.

Innovate – If you think that you have a good idea or you find somebody out there who comes up with something do not hesitate to communicate it. You might be surprised how many people who are willing to help out if you give them the possibility. Be part of the process and do not be afraid to contribute it is very few ideas that can be used as part of your product line but you will find that the creative process will make you start to think how you can improve your own products to sooth your clients even better. Look at social media as a place were you can test your ideas out and might get them to the first or second step of development but that you need to fine-tune them in your own workshop.

Invest – If you do not contribute to the social media scene you will eventually be ignored by your peers. You need to invest your time and intellectual resources in the social media if you are going to come across as having any credibility. It is not unlike when you have friends if you are always the person getting help and asking if people can nurture your needs they will eventually disappear. Show that you are willing and able to contribute to community then other will be more willing to give you something back.

Get people involved – Get people participating from all levels of your organisation not just senior management (who we all know let their aid do the blogging) and the communication (that have to) or marketing (who just wants to sell) department. Encourage you colleagues to contribute about the things that they care about and trust that they will have judgment enough to be able to distinguish between what to say (f.ex. I ad had a really bad day at work) and what not to say (f.ex. my boss is the biggest a.. in the world), if necessary teach them the basic ins- and outs of communicating though social media. Remember that your organisation have hired these people and trust them well enough to handle your resources so as a point of departure you should also trust them to communicate about it.

Yes, getting the “message across” – If you want to get the message across in the traditional sense you should not use social media in order to do so. If you are just using the media as a new type of add you will not be able to harvest the benefits that the media potentially can spawn for your organisation. Getting the message across in social media means that you are willing and able to negotiate the message it self. You put some idea or piece of information out there and then it does no longer belong to you but rather it becomes part of the collective discussion. People might think it is really good other might not some will ignore you message others wants to engage and discuss. You have to be able to respond to your stakeholder’s attitude to your piece of communication and remember that silence is also a way to give feedback and should prompt a response from you.

Communicate – Last but not least is social media a place where you communicate not for one-way information dissemination. When people want to listen to you, you might as well have the kindness to listen back when they try to give you good advice. You might not think much of the advice you are getting but that does not mean that you bring people down or tall them of see it as a genuine interest.

ROI – The return-on-investment for your social media efforts can come from many directions. One thing is of cause your ability to communicate with your stakeholders, but it also enables you to build a reputation that will serve you well if you get in trouble. Just think if people had rallied around some of the companies that get in trouble if they had had a follower group who were willing to stand up for the organisations. Were would the BP brand be today if stakeholders in the Mexican gulf had said that “mistakes happens but we continue to trust that they have our best interest in mind” even after the disaster. Today the BP brand is at an all time low because they made the choice to keep their stakeholders from communicating with them when things went from bad to worse. Had they had a different strategy, which took into account all the organisations communication, they would properly be able to claim a much different outcome.

My last comment will be that social media is not the universal communicative tool that will solve all your issues management cases. Rather it is a supplement to all the other activities that your organisation engage in from direct sales, advertising, shareholder meetings, CSR, direct marketing, conferences, etc. everywhere members of your organisation communicate they are part of the co-creation of the corporate image.

Getting to the early adaptor using IMC – Strategies for implementing CSR

When trying to implement any kind of new innovation within an organisation or in a social context it is not without importance how and with what tools this is done. With CSR or Business ethics it is even more important because it is hard if not impossible to remove or erase what has already been done. What is important is that you get the ethics of your business into the DNA of your organisation, as Wayne Visser would put it. While this might not seem a like an enormous task it is not as complicated as it might seem. It might take a while for it to sink in but if you keep it simple and stay close to your strategy at hand you will get there eventually.

First of all one needs a holistic but structured approach. What you need to do is to answer the What, Why and How and When of your organisational CSR. This is not to say that this is a simple four step model or the only way of finding out what is important but it makes sense to establish a clear platform from were your business ethics can be expressed.

You need to define what is important to your organisation. If you are consulting company it might make much sense for your organisations members to talk about carbon footprint even though it is a very ‘hot’-subject in the CSR community. What might make more sense is to talk about how you see your relationship with the customer, how far will you go in coaching them, and at what point will it be important to say stop or escalate a issue to your management. If you are a designer it might be important to look into the people who produce your cloth. Are their any child labour and what about women’s rights in the factories that produce your unique designs? It is the ‘What’ is important to my company, and to me that should be in focus not what is the hot issue in the news or what the marketing department tells you will sell.

When you have made it clear what you stand for you need to investigate why these issues are important to You and not somebody else. It might seem trivial but if you can’t answer why something is important it will be really hard to persuade your employees, management, customers and suppliers why change is such a great idea. There is no one-size-fits-all on the Why of CSR and Business ethics. You might have personal reasons why this issue is important or it might be part of the collective memory of your organisation the central issue is that it is an ethical issue that you feel strongly about. This dos not mean that you should be blind for other would be subjects out there, but if you are going to build you business on ethical grounds than it should at least have a strong foundation and answering the Why will help you do just that.

What you have looked at the What and Why you turn to How. You have gathered some thought on how you are going to interpret the issues, which are important to you into some kind of guideline for the whole organisation. The How can have many forms it can be codes of conduct or code or ethics or it can be less visible as part of the standard operating procedures that you ask everybody to follow. In my experience the later is the better because it directly influences human behaviour, but one as an organisation you might have to make a clear statement both inside and outside its boundaries and then a code could be a good option. Both because it create a clear statement to your employees and management on what is acceptable behaviour but also because it tells your external stakeholders and not least your customers what you stand for.

Last one in the initial exercise is to plan the When and this is where you need to think about your early adaptors. You now know your What, Why and How of your organisational ethics now you need to let your invention grow. You know that your idea about the ethics of your organisation is founded in its DNA and the idea behind and know that it is rooted in your product and cultural heritage.  This means that you need to identify who you want to communicate with and find an appropriate channel that will enable you to reach these people.

However, you need to communicate the same message to all stakeholders not only the ones that you want to adopt your innovation. As you only have one opportunity to communicate your message and reach the people who will act as agents for change you have to use all the channels at your disposal. Integrated Marketing Communication is concept that is designed to make all aspects of marketing and internal communication such as advertising, publications, sales promotion, public relations, issues management, media relations, direct marketing and not least CSR to work together as one unified and powerful force, rather than permitting each to work in isolation. The combination of marketing and public relations tools lets an organisation influence for instance the image, public reputation and employee attitudes through the consistence and persistence of a few powerful messages.

“[IMC] is a process which involves the management and organization of all ”agents” in the analysis, planning, implementation and control of all marketing communication contacts, media, messages and promotional tools focused at selected target audiences in such a way as to derive the greatest enhancement and coherence of marketing communication effort in achieving predetermined product and marketing communication objectives.” (joep Cornelissen, 2008 among others)

The selected audience in this case is your agents of change. So even though all members of your audience will have the information at hand about what you are communicating it is the agent who is in your mind when you design your message. He or she properly already known to you or at least your vision of such a person, he is competent both as a person but also as a technician. It is a respected person who has their own values but is loyal giving the person credibility among his peers. It is a person who lives for the future and is willing to take a limited risk in trying something new her or his fuel is passion and the willingness and ability to transform a vision into something more tangible (such as your vision for a ethical business platform). It is a self-starter and motivator that do need fuel to run but ones started will interpret your vision and make it his or her own.

One of the main features about the change agent is that it does not have to be a employee it can be a customer who likes your product and buys in to your corporate culture and want to be evolved. It can be a supplier who sees the long-term benefit of a close relationship with your organisation or a junior member of your staff who buys into your idea. The innovation can get hold anywhere where there is a change agent present who displays the features that you are looking for.

Next week I will try to have a go at how you can use different types of communication channels including social media to get your change agent motivated and not least engaged in your strategic CSR efforts.

Uses of Social media in CSR communication

Lets say that we believe that CSR is a form of stakeholder engagement which companies can utilise in order to structure and work both strategically and structured with reaching persons and organisations who have a interest in the organisations actions. Then how does Social media come in and how can we utilise platforms like twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and blogs in order to reach people who have a stake?

First of all there is the central theme within CSR, that in order to be perceived as a socially responsible towards society a company or organisation needs to know and communicate with their stakeholders. As stated in the ISO 26000 definition an organisations CSR effort is defined as;

“Responsibility of an organization for the impacts of its decisions and activities on society and the environment, through transparent and ethical behaviour that contributes to sustainable development, including health and the welfare of society; takes into account the expectations of stakeholders; is in compliance with applicable law and consistent with international norms of behaviour; and is integrated throughout the organization and practiced in its relationships.

But in order to do all these activities an organisation needs to adapt systems that enable them to get in contact and maintain communication with people who have an interest in its continued operations. Such a system could be social media, which offers a wide range of opportunities for sustained and progressive communication with stakeholders. But the approach is only use-full if the organisation is prepared to embrace its possibilities and live with its consequences.

First:

Social media is highly suitable to use in combination with an Integrated Market Communication (IMC) effort. There are numerous examples were social media is used to effectively communicate with salient stakeholders. Just think of fan-art forums or Facebook groups dedicated to different brands. Such as a page dedicated to small Lego characters or fan art dedicated to the battle between Pepsi and Coca-cola. While some companies have tried to ban and distance themselves from these groups they are a enormous source of information about the people how are most interested in what your organisation is up to, good or bad.

So a good social media communication strategy would be to monitor and systematically collect information that is posted by the fans. And from time to time but not to often ask about their opinion on different subjects from ne products to issues being discussed in the media. These people might be very critical of your action but they are dedicated and loyal to your brand and would for the most part whish the best for its continued prosperity. So do not miss the opportunity to get them act like ambassadors for your organisation they have much more credibility than you would ever hope for.

Second:

Social media is good for creating your own story. Blogs and twitter can create a sense of closeness to the people behind the reports and official statements. One thing is to say that you have done things in your supply chain in the annual report another is to make a blog entry or a tweet when you are in the field doing social audits. Most interested stakeholders would like to help you out in your quest to improve your business ethics record so why not use this to your advantage. Live blogging or creating a podcast from a field visit, will make your audit even better and create attention around what you are trying to achieve instead of being a reactive activity you have used the media to be proactive.

Of cause one have to remember that such activities cost resources and time spend on communicating with people who might or might not have something concrete to contribute with. But even though one might not have any direct benefit from this communication it will provide valuable intelligence on issues of interest for the organisation.

Third:

Social media is an extra channel in times of trouble. When things starts to go wrong and an organisation are under attack from the media it can be difficult if not impossible to get voice. One of the most important things in time of a media crisis is to get the organisations side of the story out to the people who need to know. Journalists tend to focus one side of the story and in complex cases it can be difficult if not impossible to get all the nuances out there. The organisations credibility will always be questioned when it tries to communicate it is therefor important to have a established platform that was active before the crisis started, it is just not credible to start to communicate only because the organisation does not think it gets enough airtime.

The most successful organisation within social media communication have started their efforts because they thought it was a good way to get in touch with its stakeholders not because it had a need to explain why it is exposed to bad press.

Forth:

Using Social media means access to top management. Do not put the intern in charge of the organisation social media presence! While it sounds obvious it is often the gut reaction of top management to put the young in charge of the day-to-day business of running the different social platforms that it is active in. Sooner or later there will be issues that needs to reaction of management and then the communication that comes out does not have any or very little relationship with what have been communicated before. One of the major benefits for the organisation is that it can show consistency, coherence in it communication through the effective use of Social media. Within communication theory we talk about that organisation should avoid a gap between managers vision of the where its going, the culture of organisation in terms of employees and the image that it is trying to display towards its stakeholders. If the organisation does not take charge of its own communication these gaps will expand and in time it will challenge its legitimacy and maybe even its ‘licence to operate’.

Fifth

Remember that the majority of your audience consist of your own employees. The most interested stakeholders in your communication are the people who work for the organisation. When you try to communicate a message to the outside you are at the same time entertaining your internal audience. One can talk of auto-communication, as different codes that is transmitted and understood differently be different audiences. The process that is originally intended for a external audience is transformed by the employees into self-referential and self-confirming images of how they perceive the organisation now and in the future. Where self-referential means the ability of employees and other stakeholders to subscribe or un-subscribe to different images of the organisation in order to create a certain identity.

So when you write on your blog write for your employees they are both your most loyal and most critical audience. If you trust them and them you they will provide you valuable insights into the engine room of the organisation, which you would never know of through normal channels. Make sure that you give them the opportunity to be anonymous at least in the start when you gain trust.

Sixth:

The ability to measure your results could be the most important thing you can do. If you do not measure, compile and analyse your social media all your efforts could be wasted. Remember that it is the strategic use of social media that is interesting not that you has engaged in random activities on the web. Have standardised reporting on traffic, comments, demographics, subjects, etc. and hold regular meetings on how you are going to use the media tactically and how it relates to the strategy that you have put out. Make sure that you organise in a way that ensures that the people internally that have a stake in the social media are also engaged in its strategic development such as Marketing, Sales, HR, Communication departments. Their input will give added value to the intelligence that is taken of the media and how it should be interpreted in a wider context.

So if you want to use social media to communicate around and about the impacts of the organisations decisions and activities on society and the environment make sure that you know and understand how to use the tool to its full capacity.

Integrated Market Communication as a CSR communication strategy

In the introduction of the CSR training that I’m involved in with the CSR gender group I start out with asking the participants which definition of CSR they subscribe to. The answers normally vary a great deal depending on the audience but for the majority people would like to be told what and how CSR is to be formulated. These are the four definitions we present:

 “The Social Responsibility refers to the obligations of businessmen to pursue those policies, to make those decisions, or to follow those lines of action which are desirable in terms of the objectives and values of our society.”

“The Social Responsibility of business is to tame the dragon, that is, to turn a social problem into economic, opportunities and economic benefit, into productive capacity, into human competence, into well-paid jobs, and into wealth.”

Corporate Social Responsibility is a concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and in their interaction with their stakeholders on a voluntary basis.”

“Responsibility of an organization for the impacts of its decisions and activities on society and the environment, through transparent and ethical behaviour that contributes to sustainable development, including health and the welfare of society; takes into account the expectations of stakeholders; is in compliance with applicable law and consistent with international norms of behaviour; and is integrated throughout the organization and practiced in its relationships.”

However, I believe that is a misunderstanding to tell people what definition they should subscribe to. Rather it should be negotiated between the organisation and its key stakeholders on a continues basis. CSR is not a management system and will never become such a system simply because it is based on the principle that “Any group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of the organization’s purpose and objectives”(Freeman, 1984) have a stake in how the organization develop.

What organizations can do is to become effective in their efforts to identify, categories and negotiate with the stakeholder on what activities that it should engage in. Such a framework can be found using a integrated marketing (IMC) approach enabling organizations to communicate effectively with multiple stakeholders and at the same time indentifying less salient groups which might have a interest or is affected by the organizations activities.

IMC can be described as a process which involves the management and organization of all stakeholders in the analysis, planning, implementation and control of all marketing communication contacts, media, messages and promotional tools focused at selected target audiences in such a way as to derive the greatest enhancement and coherence of marketing communication effort in achieving predetermined product and marketing communication objectives.

An IMC approach will in my mind be the most effective framework a given organization can adopt if it wants to be regarded as social responsible player and keep some influence in relation to its identity, culture and image.