If there is the internet, there is the way…
The digital world has opened up new avenues for virtually everything. A little ideation and a few clicks of a button is all it takes to reach millions of people all across the world.
Companies and brands have used this time and again for marketing, but there is another important facet that the internet can be used for – corporate social responsibility.
But before we move on to corporate social responsibility, online strategies and examples, it is important to understand what CSR is, and why it is important.
CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY – The What?
As the name suggests, CSR is based on the notion that just like individuals, corporations too owe something to the community and the society that they operate in. They too, need to follow certain rules and obligations and give back to the society for the collective betterment.
Thus, CSR refers to the management practices of self-regulation that seek to make contributions through cultural, economic, philanthropic and social means and methods. Both the corporation as a whole and its employees work together to bring about a positive change to the sphere that they have adopted, ranging from anti-racism to child education and more. Today, the concept of digital citizenship has also become an important dimension of the corporate ethical practices and ingrained in the company culture.
Many corporations have now begun promoting the positive and responsible use of the online resources as a part of their CSR and outreach efforts.
CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY – The Why?
Corporates engage in CSR for a number of reasons. Some reasons emerge from a genuine interest in the society, and a desire to keep itself aligned with its foundational values and missions. Other reasons emerge out of self-interest. After all, a good CSR campaign can fetch far more positive publicity and word of mouth than just any expensive ad campaign. Many also comply with the CSR requirements as they have been mandated by law.
Read more about why companies should engage in corporate social responsibility here. Whatever may be the motivation, the end result of CSR is that it ultimately benefits somebody in need. So, many are of the opinion that even if corporations do get something out of their CSR activities, then too there’s no harm in it.
Digitalizing Helping Hands?
Traditional corporate social responsibility examples include building housing, providing educational and training services, or adopting farms and villages to aid in their productivity. While all of these are much needed and noble, companies stand to gain a lot by digitalizing their CSR efforts.
The emerging concept of the digital citizenship means that more and more people expect pertinent social issues to be debated, discussed, and ideated upon online as well. Companies that bring at least a part of their responsibility efforts to the digital world stand to gain a lot through this exposure. The low cost and high outreach of digital means a better shot at a successful campaign that brings about a meaningful change.
How CSR Can Shape Up In The Digital World?
Corporate Social responsibility in the digital world is somewhat unexplored, though there are many incredible ideas that the companies can tap into. Here are some excellent case studies of campaigns and ideas that have combined the social good and the online resources to bring about a positive change.
Capacity Building For Action – L’Oreal Paris Against Street Harassment
Street harassment is one of the many pervasive forms of sexual violence that women have to endure in their daily lives. Bystanders, both men, and women, often find themselves in a helpless situation too. What do they do? And how do they do it?
Beauty giant L’Oreal Paris realized that its customers were suffering this way, every day. So they partnered up with Hollaback!, an NGO dealing with and addressing street harassment. Their mission was to educate bystanders on how they can intervene in a situation of street harassment, that too without escalating the situation.
By using powerful videos and directing individuals to online repositories of information on their website, the campaign displayed a simple but powerful way of taking action – through awareness and collective action.
Crowdsourcing Creative Solutions – The Starbucks Cup Problem
Plastic has become the Public Enemy No. 1 in recent years, and for good reason. Recognizing their role in the problem, Starbucks killed two birds with one stone. They created an online campaign in 2008 to crowdfund ideas for an eco-friendly cup. They thus not only found a quick and easy solution to their problem, but also showed people that they were changing their disposable ways.
The campaign’s best part was that due to its online nature, ideas poured in from all over the world, thus enabling the multinational chain to ponder upon multiple ideas that would be best suited for a particular geography.
Massive Online Open Courses – Sharing The Wealth
Many companies, especially the Tech giants such as IBM and Google, have used online resources to provide certifications, courses and trainings to individuals, often for free.
This move has allowed many from the lower socio-economic backgrounds, for whom in-person internships and trainings would have been too expensive, to upgrade their knowledge and skills and stand shoulder to shoulder with their more privileged peers.
Turning Simple Action Into Activism – Ecosia Search Engine
Though Ecosia is technically an NGO, its innovative approach in getting people engaged deserves a special mention. Ecosia is a chrome browser extension and a search engine that uses people’s regular web surfing to plant trees.
Every search on the platform generates revenue via advertisements, which goes towards the reforestation efforts. The beauty of Ecosia is in its brilliant simplicity – people just need to do is search on Ecosia and through this they can do something good for the planet.
Corporations too can tap into similar models for their corporate social responsibility efforts and have a lot to gain in the digital world.
The Facebook Fail
In 2013, Facebook, in partnership with six tech companies, opened up Free Basics. The idea was to provide low-cost internet services to the poorest regions of the world. The problem was however that of net neutrality, the basic tenet that all information, websites, etc. should be treated equally by the internet service providers.
Violating this basic tenant went against the grain of digital citizenship, as Facebook only provided limited websites to the poor. A viral analysis later decried this effort as a ‘western corporate front’ that was not at all helpful to the poor. This endeavor had significantly damaged Facebook’s reputation.
The above case studies have amplified that there is great potential for tapping the online resources to engage in corporate social responsibility, but only for those who do it well.
By going online, companies can use what they already have – information, people, resources and skills – and channelize them towards the people and the communities that really need them.
What is your take about the using of online methods for fulfilling corporate social responsibility? Can these efforts be as impactful as those done offline? Do you have any other CSR ideas that the companies can use? We’d love to hear your opinions in the comments below!