Although 82 percent of Americans expect companies to report on the progress of their social and environmental efforts, only 17 percent say they have read a CSR report in the past 12 months, according to the recently released 2015 Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Study. And who can blame them? Reports tend to be so dull, it’s even a challenge to get them read internally. This illustrates a need for companies to be more creative with the ways they inform and engage consumers and other stakeholders of their progress against goals.
Originally designed to meet the demands for transparency among investors and key influencers, CSR reports historically took the form of a dense, 100-page PDF document. According to the new Cone/Ebiquity Study, when it comes to what forms CSR data and commitments should take, Americans feel brief written summaries (42 percent), interactive websites (36 percent) and videos (29 percent) are more effective than comprehensive written reports (18 percent). These preferred formats signal the broader challenge for companies to make their CSR data more accessible, dynamic and compelling to secure a larger return on investment.
“Companies have an immense opportunity to bring information from long-form CSR reports to life in new and dynamic ways,” says Lisa Manley, CSR Strategy EVP at Cone. “Just as different stakeholders are interested in specific commitments, report information can be customized to effectively reach each audience. Although investors may be seeking more robust metrics, consumers will gravitate towards interactive websites, short snapshots and fun videos. The door is wide open for companies to take CSR reporting to entirely new levels and innovate to create experiences that resonate best with each stakeholder segment.”
In an effort to push forward innovation in this field, Cone Communications has developed five tips to take CSR reporting to the next level:
- Innovate Formats: CSR content should take many forms — a long-form report is just one execution. Turn CSR data and metrics into infographics or social media “badges,” transform static stakeholder quotes into videos or build a custom app for your sales teams to share CSR commitments on the road.
- Tell More Stories: Although CSR reports are typically chock-full of data and figures, it’s important to balance these metrics with the amazing stories behind successes and progress. In fact, 66 percent of Americans believe a combination of both numbers and/or data, and stories of impact are equally important when learning of company CSR commitments or results.
- Build for Fun, Interaction and Ease: Don’t let your readers’ eyes glaze over from too many static charts and pages of text. Americans want an engaging and uncomplicated experience, whether that’s achieved through a dynamic website or simplified look and feel. Take advantage of navigational toolbars, hyperlinks and scannable content so readers can zero-in on the content they most want to read. Build out websites with a mix of video, images, interactive charts and more to keep readers engaged and interested.
- Get Social: Americans spend more time on social media than any other major Internet activity, including email. So make your CSR reports a part of the social experience. Go beyond slapping a Facebook icon at the top of your webpage and build social components right into your report. Encourage and enable readers to share data points, information on commitments and more as they read — pre-populate posts for an even easier social sharing experience.
- Make it 365: In today’s world, things can change in hours or even minutes, so don’t wait an entire year to talk about your company’s CSR progress. Companies can make reporting real time by pulsing out information throughout the year, especially around major milestones. Think of CSR reports as turn-key content calendars; create a plan for the entire year while also responding in the moment to news or developments.
Whether or not they’re reading CSR reports, the 2015 Cone Communications/Ebiquity Global CSR Study also found that global consumers feel a personal accountability to address social and environmental issues and look to companies as partners in progress: Nine-in-10 expect companies to do more than make a profit, but also operate responsibly to address social and environmental issues. And consumers polled also echo that high standard in their own lives and shopping behavior: 84 percent said they seek out responsible products whenever possible, though 81 percent cite availability of these products as the largest barrier to not purchasing more.