social-responsibilitySocial responsibility policies are effective ways to generate goodwill for your business. According to an article in the Environmental Leader, a good social responsibility policy (or corporate responsibility policy, as named by the article) can give your business an incredible boost, bringing in customers and generating recommendations.

[Global CSR RepTrack 100] finds that 73 percent of global consumers are willing to recommend companies that are perceived to be delivering on their CSR programs. While consumer support for companies perceived to be socially responsible is strong, however, the amount of companies believed to be actually delivering on their CSR programs has dropped from 12 in 2012 to only five in the 2013 study.

…The 2013 Cone Communications/Eco Global CSR Study found that global consumers have clear and specific expectations for the role companies should play in addressing social and environmental issues, with 93% wanting to see more of the products and services they use support corporate social responsibility efforts.

Companies that disregard these demands from consumers risk more than their reputations. Nine in 10 consumers say they would boycott if they learned of irresponsible behavior, according to the survey.

You may not be a Microsoft or a Walt Disney, two of the companies named in the report. But you can still turn the idea of social responsibility to your advantage, leveraging it to boost your reputation and ward off an online reputation management crisis.

Many small businesses are doing this successfully. For example, many web hosting companies, including very small one, emphasize their green and carbon neutral practices as a heavy selling point. Here are some tips for crafting your own effective policy.

Set a Course

First, decide what kind of social or environmental issue or social issue you’re going to tackle. Much will depend on what business you’re in. A bakery could donate the day’s unsold bread to a soup kitchen.  A business on the bus line could reduce emissions by adding a bike rack and offering incentives to employees who bike or ride the bus to work. You could mount solar panels on your business, or find a way to produce an environmentally friendly product.  There are plenty of social and environmental issues to go around, and your program does not have to be expensive.

This course should also include ways that you can improve your responsibility in other areas. Having a social responsibility policy will not shield you from the public’s ire if they perceive you to be committing wrongs in other ways.

WalMart provides an excellent case-in-point. They have spent a lot of time and money trying to “go Green.” Unfortunately, any goodwill they would have generated by cutting their carbon emissions are overshadowed by the public’s perception that they take advantage of their employees while taking advantage of corporate welfare.

Stick to your Course

Setting a social responsibility policy and then failing to follow it is worse than setting no policy at all. When you craft your policy, make sure that it’s well within your budget and time capabilities.

You should also make sure that your employees are buying into the program, so that they will actively practice it, promote it, and participate in it.

Make Sure the World Knows

Your social responsibility policy won’t do much of anything for you if you don’t let people know. You need to blog about it. You need to issue press releases. You need to add signs to your establishment that talk about it. Tweet about it, too. Don’t hide your light under the proverbial basket.

Much of your emphasis should be on the online world, since that is where most people go to form opinions. Fortunately, creating a virtual firewall to guard your reputation is a lot easier when you’re actively getting out there and doing things to help it. It’s hard to generate news stories about companies that do nothing at all. It’s quite easy when you’re feeding the hungry or protecting the environment in hands-on, visible ways every day that you’re in business. This will act to shield you from any negative or defamatory content that might appear online.

If you succeed in this effort you’ll reap another benefit as well. The study indicated that 59% of consumers would go out of their way to communicate something positive about companies that they see acting as good corporate citizens, compared to 23% for companies perceived to be weak in this area. A well-executed social responsibility policy, therefore, has the potential to entice other people to produce a slew of content online that boosts your reputation. That’s nothing to sneeze at, and is a benefit well worth pursuing.