In the context of business communication and shaping the corporate image, one of the most modern communication techniques is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Some may find the word “Strategy” incompatible with the term “Responsibility”, but we believe it’s worth considering it. The term CSR consists of the following components: 1) “Corporate”, which in principle means the company/business (and in my opinion correctly indicates the role/position from which the business/partner/member acts and contributes) 2) “Social”, referring to the field of action and participation; and 3) “Responsibility”, which as a word certainly does not need recommendations and which I consider to be the strongest communication stimulus.
Corporate Social Responsibility, despite its widespread use by companies to shape their corporate image in recent years, remains a controversial practice. Of course, in order to be able to approach this issue with the utmost scientific certainty, we must consider the context of the conditions that created and brought to light this new form of communication strategy of companies.
Factors such as the revolution in the dissemination of information, education and new economic conditions have drastically changed the traditional way of communication between businesses and consumers. The advertising, depending on the audiences it targets, has quickly switched from the innocent urge to persuasive advertising techniques that have occasionally raised issues ranging from mere breach of ethics to unfair promotion and from non-existent allegations to the use of informal blackmail rating pressures. The audience is now more educated and mature and thus it is not easily distracted or “fooled” by the usual advertising messages. As a result, costly advertising packages do not deliver the expected results. Of course, there are intelligent display messages, but either they do not target a large audience or their effectiveness has not been widely understood by the business community itself. In any case, companies evaluate their success on a cost-benefit basis and have found that traditional advertising no longer meets their expectations.
The dissemination of new media has also contributed significantly to the critical attitude and distrust of the audience towards companies and their roles. Rapid and widespread dissemination of information is undoubtedly beneficial, but businesses often do not share the same opinion when it comes to negative publications that, no matter how true, are potentially dangerous to the public’s image because of the way they are disseminated. Thus, such publications could be sufficient to destroy or at least drastically damage the image of the business on the market.
The above observation must be taken into account by considering the particular economic context. In times of financial turmoil, this “rivalry” is exaggerated, as the public is facing many financial pressures, and thus blames companies for speculation and exploitative behavior. It is obvious that, regardless of the companies’ responsibility for this rivalry, this situation severely affects the market and the businesses, since suspicion and hostility are deterrents against any healthy relationship.
The bona fide approach to the emergence of CSR suggests that companies become aware of the above situation and decide to redefine their social role. On the other hand, the emergence of CSR could be explained as the need of adopting practices that aim at creating a new corporate profile, focusing not on the product but on the ‘Human/Consumer/Customer’s quality of life, and on the contribution of the business and its product to it.
Both approaches have the same starting point regardless of whether businesses truly share their social role and the responsibilities that result from it. A company is a social partner that influences and is influenced by the society. A company is not meant to be solely or primarily interested in the sale of goods or services disregarding the consequences of its attitude. Consumers will buy goods or services considering the prices, but they will also choose those companies which will convince them that they are aware of the existing common problems and take action. Although not all western societies have the same consumer consciousness to “punish” socially indifferent companies, it is certain that only the companies that are human centered will have a competitive advantage in a highly competitive market environment.
The CSR and the consequent implementation of the relevant actions obviously cost a lot. The high costs are part of the company’s philosophy: it chooses to offer part of its profits to upgrade the living conditions of the wider social group, which – whether it is a direct beneficiary or not – is convinced of the company’s good intentions. It is important to note that the implementation of this policy also requires the creation of relevant departments and/or the recruitment of specialist consultants who will study the market and interpret its needs and trends in order to properly take targeted actions.
CSR is an advanced form of business communication with the consumers. In the past, companies and consumers either communicated poorly or in a less interactive way. CSR introduced an interactive way of communication, which is much more effective as it builds the relationship between the company and its audience on an entirely new basis, which is particularly relevant in a time of social crisis and social degradation.