Social Responsibility: Being a Brand That Actually Cares

It's time to pay your dues to your community.

planting tree
Syda Productions/stock.adobe.com

To quote a study from Horizon Media from around 2014: "81 percent of Millennials expect companies to make a public commitment to good corporate citizenship."

With global climate disasters and national tragedies making headlines every day, I think it's safe to assume that this statistic remains the same — if not increased.

We live in the age of acronyms, so let's talk about one that's quickly popping up on many organizations' radars: ESG, or "environmental, social, and governance." There's a lot to unpack in this term, but the gist is that when investors are looking at your company, they're analyzing more than just profit potential. They want to assess growth and risk opportunities based on your company's carbon footprint and sustainability measures, the conditions of your workforce and your overall business transparency.

If your ESG analysis comes out poorly, you may not be able to count on doing well in your next rounds of fundraising.

ESG sprung from the growing consumer desire for companies of all sizes to start taking social responsibility more seriously. While large organizations have to think about their global impact, your small to medium-sized brand (SMB) isn't off the hook.

It's time to pay your dues to your community. Here's how.

Put your time where your mouth is.

When it comes to being socially or environmentally responsible, talk is cheap. Action and dedication are what matter.

The reason that so many massive corporations have ESG action plans is that it looks good, they're societally pressured into doing it, and they stand to make money from it. It's kind of like when celebrities give million-dollar donations to charity—sure, it's money for a good cause, but it's also a tax write-off.

As a medium or small brand, you may not be able to make a change on a national level, but you better integrate your brand into the community and drive change locally. You could volunteer to build houses, take time out on Fridays to help out at a local food kitchen or go on a one-day tree-planting adventure. Whatever good you can do is time well-spent.

As your business grows and your team demands more and more of your time, it's difficult and bordering on impossible to carve out the hours to serve your community on your personal time. Solve this problem by making it an office activity where you can not only give back but also build a stronger team unit.

Make social responsibility a job role within your company.

Almost everyone has a social issue that is personal and important to them — many of which can be addressed by the efforts of your company.

If there's one employee who's particularly passionate about, for example, planting trees, ask them if they'd be interested in taking on the role of social responsibility coordinator. This puts action behind your brand's good intentions and allows one person to coordinate outings where the team can plant trees, pick up garbage, build houses for the homeless or whatever the cause or focus is.

This ties back into my last point of, to state it bluntly, putting up or shutting up. Creating a defined social responsibility role is part of leveling up from thinking about creating a positive impact to actually doing it. And, of course, it makes for a good press release.

However, creating positive PR for your company is actually a side-effect of electing a social responsibility coordinator. The biggest benefit is that you'll have an excuse to get the team together outside of work to create bonding opportunities that will reflect during the workday.

Realize that silence is loud.

As important as community awareness is, social responsibility isn't just a matter of coordinating volunteer opportunities.

It's about being brave and being political.

Brands with no stance are going to get called out in the digitally connected and, dare I say it, cancel-happy world companies operate in. Silence will get you publicly scolded by online activists (and people just in it for the fun of dog-piling) so you might as well speak up!

It's important to understand, though, that no matter what statement you make about a controversial issue, it's going to be the wrong one for somebody. It's just the way these things go. It's always a good idea to have a solid, data-backed understanding of who your audience is before you comment on topics like, for a recent example, Roe v. Wade.

While massive corporations may have a much closer eye inspecting all aspects of their environmental and social responsibility, this is not an excuse for your company to ignore it. Even if you're a fully remote joint, you still have a community and still make some sort of impact, which means you have a level of influence.

The way you use this influence not only helps you become a socially responsible brand, which is a big plus in its own right, but it gives a connection point for audiences hungering for brands that authentically care about issues close to them.

With important factors like brand credibility and audience engagement on the line, it's irresponsible to ignore responsibility.

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