The modern era has cemented businesses and companies as one of the most powerful bodies with the ability to shape social change. When companies make a statement, people often notice. It is critical then that companies and businesses know how to harness good attention and meaningfully address bad attention. The COVID-19 pandemic further proved that businesses have a social responsibility to stay in tune with their local community. Navigating the new age of social responsibility can be daunting for small businesses and international corporations alike; it can sometimes feel like the rules are always changing. It is essential that modern businesses and companies not only strive to grow but to also make the world a better place. Companies that transcend that us-versus-them mentality between consumers and businesses are those who hold themselves accountable and are genuinely engaged with promoting social good.
Businesses who are outwardly socially responsible and active in their community have the most to gain, as Porter Novelli’s 2021 Business & Social Justice Study found that 62% of Americans believe that companies can help normalize social justice conversations through marketing and communications. The same study also found that six-in-ten Americans say it is no longer acceptable for companies to be silent on social justice issues, further, 49% take companies’ silence on social issues to mean they do not care. Not every business, however, has the budget or scope to hire consultants to manage a company’s social image. But, the good news is: there are several low-cost strategies business owners can take to better their community involvement, paint their brand in a better light, and show consumers that they take social responsibility seriously.
Familiarize Yourself with the Concept of “Stakeholders”
To meaningfully represent social responsibility, a business ought to work for the benefit of not just shareholders, but all stakeholders in a company. Stakeholders are all people who interact or are affected by a business. Customers, suppliers, employees, and surrounding community members are all considered stakeholders because the business, in some way, affects their lives. Recognizing the interconnected relationship between a business and its community is the basis of stakeholder theory and being aware of the several ways your business can affect the people around you is one of the most tangible ways to increase your social responsibility.
Companies that think in terms of stakeholders instead of “shareholders” tend to make decisions based on ethics and morals rather than investments and returns. Instead of creating value for stockholders or focusing solely on monetary returns, create value for your community. Even if a business doesn’t actually have shareholders, it is still possible to have your business geared toward a shareholder mentality.
So, how do you determine the difference between a stakeholder and shareholder perspective? An example of stakeholder mindfulness could be establishing more expensive recycling measures knowing they will benefit the community while shareholder mindfulness could be choosing the least expensive waste removal system knowing it will increase immediate returns. Working for stakeholders means planning for long-term success beyond cash returns instead of short-term profits. Whether that means taking direct input from employees and customers, or actively making decisions to those peoples’ benefit, stakeholder theory is the basis of a socially responsible company.
Actively Engage in Local Events
Associate your brand with initiatives, events, and collectives that promote social good. Be present at local events. Being a sponsor for local events promoting modern social awareness is one of the most effective ways to associate your brand with those very concepts. Beyond sticking your brand’s logo on banners and T-shirts, be sure to have a physical presence at events either through enthusiastic team members or product displays. Event sponsorship is also one of the most effective ways to promote organic cross-pollination associating your brand with social good. Through either television and news media coverage or individuals on social media, people are likely to take notice of your brand in a way that does not feel manufactured.
One of the best forums for connecting event organizers to sponsors is Sponsor My Event which regularly features events across the United States ripe for associating your brand with modern social responsibility.
Become a Forerunner for Modern Ethical Labor Practices
No matter if a company is strictly domestic or deals internationally, those who adopt modern ethical labor practices show solidarity with their employees and community at large. As company labor practices become increasingly public, it is much less acceptable to remain silent. Like stakeholder theory, consider the wellbeing of your employees and even the origin of your supplies before your bottom line.
Strategies to consider include restructuring your hiring process to avoid bias; there are a number of simple things you can do to reduce hiring bias, including tapping new sources for talent – this can mean posting job ads on job boards like Diversity.com and Career Contessa, or using skills assessments which can create fairer evaluation criteria.
Another strategy is researching and being transparent about your suppliers and the origin of your materials. Especially in textiles and electronics, there are several international suppliers that use unethical practices like child labor or low wages. Ethically sourced products are often more expensive than their counterparts, but by investing in an ethical supply chain a business can quickly turn their intentional supplier choices into a selling point.
If your company is one of the few in your local area to offer intentionally diverse hiring or commits to sourcing ethical supplies, both potential employees and likely local leaders will take notice. With limited publication and fanfare, businesses that employ ethical labor practices are likely to be considered socially responsible.
Meet Your Local Leaders
One of the best ways to learn how to serve your community is to listen to your local leaders. Either through research or social media, find out who in your local area represents business ideals you want to align your company with. Find out who is leading pride month organizations for your city. Find out who represents local unions. No matter which angle best suits your business, there is likely a local leader who would be happy to sit down and talk about how to run your business for the betterment of your community.
Proper Social Media Outreach
Basic social media outreach is no longer acceptable. Either in addressing social change or simply responding to customers, businesses with stale or basic social media presences are missing out on a massive opportunity for growth and refining your brand’s association with social responsibility awareness. The first step toward being socially responsible is being unambiguously honest with your customers. Social media puts companies on equal footing with every consumer; that means holding businesses accountable is often much easier. Avoid obtuse legalese and give your customers transparency and honesty.
The type of writing that works in a professional email or an employment ad falls flat on social media; clear, targeted statements are often the most effective. A timely example is the various ways businesses chose to address June 2021 Pride Month. Companies that simply posted a message with a rainbow banner are missing out on a key element of harnessing social media: intentional and engaging content.. Those companies that published reviews on how their company succeeded and can grow to better support the LGBTQ+ as well as others that meaningfully engaged either with videos or comments from executives will be seen as leaders instead of falling into the fold among thousands of cookie-cutter posts.
The Importance of Social Responsibility
Social Responsibility is a bizarre balancing act for businesses in the modern world. Actions benefiting the social good often are counter to direct monetary returns but have the potential to make your brand more appealing in the long run. Companies that over-publicize their social outreach also run the risk of appearing insincere and only driven by the potential for cash returns. A truly socially responsible business must genuinely make choices and changes to the betterment of the community with positive PR as a byproduct instead of the sole purpose.
In learning what steps toward social responsibility best suit your company, the first stage is collaboration. Talk to your staff and engage with your community not out of obligation, but genuine interest on how to do better.