How NOT to do social media for CSR

I’m engaged at the moment in a campaign to persuade CSR teams that social media is a hugely important tool in telling their story, and building relationships with stakeholders. Plenty of them don’t get it, but I’m not giving up.

I saw today an example of how it goes wrong. I’m not bashing the company specifically, since it’s far from unique in this. However, the exchange went like this:

Customer: “Hi *brand* love my *loyalty card*, hate unnecessary printed offers. Any chance you could email to card holders instead to reduce waste please?”
Company: “I’m sorry to hear of your disappointment *customer*. Please DM us your card number, full address and DOB, we’ll be able to stop the mailings from being sent to you. Unfortunately we can’t stop the ones printed at the till but have fed this back for you - *named team member*”
Customer: “Hi *named team member*, I haven’t received paper mailings in years. The bins under every till are often overflowing with these unnecessary till offers. Most customers don’t appear to use or want them. It would be great to link advantage cards with offer preferences for future.”
Company: “I’m sorry to hear that *customer*. I’ve logged your feedback with the relevant teams. Thanks *different team member*.”
Customer: “Thanks *different team member*. Can I get a response from the relevant team about this please? I’d really like to know what the company is doing in terms of sustainability”
Company: “Unfortunately not *customer* as they are not a customer facing team. Your comments are logged internally. Sorry for any disappointment. Thanks - *third team member*”
Customer: “That is very disappointing. Where can customers find information about where the company stands on sustainability?”
Company: “Hi *customer*, our corporate social responsiblity information can be found on our website: *website-address*. Many thanks - *fourth team member*

That is truly a car-crash of an exchange. At one level, it’s not great social media practice in itself. It’s great to humanise your corporate account by having team members sign with their names, - but the impact of that personalisation is completely undermined if you can’t then assign the follow-up responses to the same team member. Instead, you simply highlight that you have a big team here and therefore there is no real chance of a conversation, just a corporate response.

And truly, what we have here is a corporate response. Feedback has been logged with the relevant team. Wow. But you can’t get a response from that team because “it’s not a customer facing team”. The customer in this case was unfailingly polite, but that is really a bullshit corporate response. Putting internal organisational barriers up against the customer’s request for information. 

I’m assuming from this that the internal team so cruelly cut off from the outside world was the one that deals with printed offers, not the CSR team. But at no point did the CSR team enter the fray, so possibly they are not ‘customer facing’ either.

How could it have been done differently? There’s more than one way, but in essence - whether as a separate company sustainability account, or as a resource to the main account - there should have been a CSR response resource in place. That very first query should have been directed to that resource. They could at least then have started with the broader context. Something like: “Hi *customer*. We take waste extremely seriously, and over the last 5 years we’ve reduced our waste by X% - see [link to relevant CSR page]. I take the point on the till offers, although they get X% use so some people want them. But we’ll discuss with the team and come back to you - *named team member*”

People latch onto symbols when it comes to issues such as waste. Things like plastic bags, till receipts etc. take up a big meaning simply because they are the bits that people most get to see. Putting it into the broader context of overall waste can help, whilst also promising action and feedback. So if the relevant team is not ‘customer facing’ then it’s down to the ‘customer facing’ part to act as go-between. The idea that “we’ll tell the team, but we won’t tell you what they said because of our internal organisation” is simply not acceptable.

Now this is fairly low level stuff. Having CSR executives responsive to stakeholders on twitter is really just a very, very basic start. You can engage such interested customers much more proactively, encourage them to sign up to a list to hear more about the progress made over the coming year, encourage them to share their own thoughts and ideas and feel valued and consulted and heard. And you can reach out to such interested stakeholders using engaging videos or other content, rather than simply waiting for them to directly approach you.

All it requires is that you have something joining together your internal processes to enable this to be seamlessly dealt with on the outside.

Want to talk about how your CSR operation could benefit from the smart social media insights from the best digital marketers? Let’s talk.

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