Social responsibility: the business case

How can we encourage corporate Australia to take social responsibility more seriously and affect real change?

That was the topic of discussion wrestled with during this week’s OgilvyOn event in Sydney, and it was fascinating to hear from some of the leading minds from the public and private sector debating how to put community needs at the heart of business in this country.

I’ve always had an interest in CSR and its role in the business world, but often come away from these sorts of discussions with the sense that they’re too ‘feel good’ and altruist, without really presenting the business case. We all know the world would be a better place if corporation sewed into local communities so the challenge is providing hard evidence for why this should be the norm.

So, how do you do it?

Given my social media interests, one idea really grabbed me around bridging this gap, and calling on organisations to take up the challenge. Tim O’Leary, Chief Sustainability Officer at Telstra, mentioned the concept of ‘social isolation’ faced by marginalised communities in this country, and how social media channels provided them access to society where previously they may have struggled.

While I agree with this notion, and have seen the benefits first-hand through wonderful organisations like Special Olympics Australia, I think social media also plays a role in engaging corporate Australia, and transparency is at its core.

Consumers are demanding more of organisations. Rather than simply being told which products and services are available to them, consumers now have a voice in shaping the service they receive and social media has changed the game for business. You only need to post an irate remark about a customer-facing brand on Twitter to see this in action…

Consumers make decisions based on more than the physical products and services. Emotions, values and morals all feed into this process, and businesses have realised they can start to tap into these traits via communication on social media channels – they can turn buyers into advocates.

As such, we as consumers are in a position to demand more of businesses. Away from deals and discounts, if we use social media channels to call out the socially responsible actions of business, imagine the change that would cause? Given the relationships we’re now forming with brands online, if corporate Australia fails to prove its genuine commitment to society, patrons will continue head for the exit and tell everyone they know on the way out.

That’s dollars. That matters.

In the words of Michael Triall, CEO of Social Ventures Australia:

What great examples of Australian businesses investing in the community in this manner have you seen?

If you’re interested in reading more, Tom Beall (Managing Director, Ogilvy Engage) recently authored the From Cause to Change: The business of behaviour whitepaper on this topic. A fantastic wrap of the event from our Media Director, Sam North, can also be found online.