Wired Workers, Social Media and CSR – Are We At A Tipping Point?

What has the advent of social media – indeed, the networked worker – meant for corporate social responsibility programs and employee activism? That’s the topic of a new white paper I’ve co-authored with my friend and longtime collaborator Howard Greenstein. Sponsored by the JK Group and released under the auspices of New York University’s Heyman Center for Fundraising & Philanthropy, Wired Workforce, Networked CSR explores the relationships between new media tools and corporate involvement. It also explores a new generation of employees and their expectations for transparency, sharing, and collaboration.

Howard and I debuted the white paper at JK Group’s Forum on Philanthropy in Princeton, NJ, where we led discussions on millennial generation workers, socially-wired CSR, and new trends in media and corporate philanthropy with attendees from Fortune 500 companies.

In preparing the paper, we studied several large American corporations who are using social media and who have found ways to involve employees, customers and stakeholders as they seek to achieve their CSR goals. We found that:

1. Companies are more comfortable using social media tools internally, but they’re waiting for external adoption by marketing before moving ahead to use them in CSR type efforts.
2. Employees seek choice and appreciate democratic participation.
3. Leadership is required to ensure continued participation in corporate giving campaigns, since employee participation is decreasing.
4. Both social media and traditional communications methods are used in employee giving campaigns and external outreach to communities.
5. Formal feedback loops for social media are the exception rather than the rule.

We also noted that there are different levels of commitment companies can make to using social media. As an example, some are taking advantage of intranet tools to allow employees to share and attract others to their causes on one end, while others actively encourage employees to alert their online connections of campaigns and request participation. Companies that are in what are traditionally regulated industries such as healthcare and finance are actively using social media as part of their CSR outreach, carefully finding the line between compliance and campaign. And some are stretching the boundaries – finding ways that their CSR efforts are part of their marketing, branding and core business efforts.

We invite you to read and comment on this paper. We know we are just scratching the surface of the efforts of companies across the world, and we consider this paper the beginning of a conversation around this topic, and not the definitive final word on the subject. Already, some interesting comments from our friend Allison Fine:

The report has terrific case studies of efforts by Kaiser Permanente, Microsoft, Pfizer, Western Union and many others. The efforts involve story telling through social media, fundraising match efforts, employee voting for donations. What I found most interesting about this report is what the authors call the rise of “citizen employees.” Employees using their passion, voices, votes, dollars to not only support causes but push their companies to be engaged and philanthropic. One thought I have: I wonder if or how these “citizens” extend their engagement into advocacy and even politics. We’ve seen companies push their employees into political giving in the past, might these employees do the same to their companies?

You can view or download the report here – Wired Workforce, Networked CSR