We all know that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has become an essential piece of the puzzle for any successful organization, no matter its size. We also know that many companies go to great lengths to do meaningful charitable work that actually makes a difference. But are these efforts really impacting the public’s perception of those brands?
While CSR sites are designed to engender trust in consumers, turns out they were 17 percent less trusted than the most trusted vertical we’ve studied. Just last month, our research and strategy firm Change Sciences compared the CSR websites of 12 top companies — AT&T, Bank of America, Chevron, The Coca-Cola Company, ExxonMobil, Ford Motor Company, General Motors Company (GM), JPMorgan Chase, Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo, Procter & Gamble (P&G), and Verizon Communications — by analyzing what people did while exploring their sites and how they felt about the experience.
Our research captured user experience metrics for usability, engagement and conversion, combining objective metrics (what people did) with subjective metrics (what people said) in each category. The study included a total of 305 general population participants, representing of a mix of age groups, gender, income levels, and tech profiles. Each respondent was randomly assigned to one site and spent about 10 minutes performing tasks and exploring the site. Immediately following the tasks, participants then completed a survey about their experience.
What we found is that despite the time, effort and large budgets that corporations put toward becoming more sustainable and better global citizens, the way they presented this information on their websites did little to change people’s opinions of the brand, for better or worse.
AT&T was the best-performing site overall, scoring 10 percent better than the average site, but some sites struggled more than others to foster trust — Coca-Cola's site was rated the least trusted site of the group, four times greater than the average for the set. Conversely, Proctor & Gamble was the most trusted site of the group, with a 15 percent higher trust rating than the average site in the set.
Overall, the sites studied didn't do a great job of showing transparency around their charitable and sustainability efforts. According to one user, “There was not as much detail as I would have liked. It seems like it is attempting to be transparent, but I could not find a lot of details in the actual text.”
What Companies Can Do to Improve Trust
While website user experience may not directly affect adoption of a product or service, it can be a way to connect positively with consumers. Based on the data collected in our study, here are three key areas of focus to improve consumer trust:
- Usability: Minimize the corporate feel with plain language and direct navigation.
- Avoid corporate speak. People are turned off by boiler-plate content or “corporate-speak.” Eliminate jargon and stock photos — good stuff without any bad feels too fake and corporate.
- Making initiatives easy to find. Make it easy to get right to specific details on your company’s charitable works and sustainability initiatives.
- Use plain language, especially in the navigation. Use common terms and issues people care about in navigation, so they don’t feel like they are navigating a corporate maze to get to the information.
- Engagement: It’s more about what you do, less about who you are.
- De-emphasize management. People don’t care about the company management (there are some exceptions to this, but not for the most part). Hence, don’t emphasize content on the executives, such as a video interview with the CEO.
- Focus on initiatives people care about. Tell stories: Emphasize content that highlights initiatives such as education, helping veterans, climate change, health/safety initiatives, etc.
- Show rather than tell. Use infographics, simple visuals, brief articles, bullet points, short videos, and interactive quizzes to show rather than talk about the impacts your company is making.
- Conversion: Admit failings and speak openly about challenges.
- Show progress made toward goals. Highlight concrete examples, actual projects funded and simple data points illustrating progress toward a goal.
- Provide some transparency. AT&T, ranked first for trust and overall in the study, provides a transparency report on how it reports data to government security organizations.
- Acknowledge past problems or upcoming challenges. Past PR challenges can be acknowledged and providing transparency on meeting those challenges helps engender trust. For instance, Chevron acknowledges the challenge of developing alternative fuels. It’s a tough balance, but it’s possible.
In the end, the top-performing sites in our study made their CSR initiatives easy to find, avoided corporate-speak, and provided transparent progress towards initiative goals. On the other hand, the lowest-performing CSR sites over-emphasized corporate leadership, made it difficult to get to initiatives, and did not provide a clear indication of progress made towards initiative goals. To bridge the gap between the great charitable work that’s being done and how people feel about it, the research shows that transparency and simplicity are what make the difference.