Storytelling is an age-old art, but the mediums through which these narratives are published, exchanged and promoted have evolved drastically over the last decade. From the proliferation of blogs to the rapid rise in social media, brands are now reassessing their storytelling methods and adjusting their communication strategies to match the ways their stakeholders—employees, consumers, investors, etc.—engage with content.
One of the greatest changes in communications over the last decade was the shift away from talking at a company’s stakeholders to talking with a company’s stakeholders. This change in dialogue, driven by the rise of social and digital platforms, has given individuals more power and greater agency to voice their candid perspectives on a company.
Reflecting on the last decade, a great deal of outrage toward corporations stemmed from a company’s stance—or lack thereof—on a particular social or environmental issue. That’s why it is more important than ever for brands to keep a pulse on their stakeholders, not only to monitor sentiment and respond to critiques, but to have a deep understanding of the societal and sustainability issues that matter most to them.
In the age of purpose-driven business, it is critical for companies to create a social impact storytelling strategy that is authentic to both their audience and brand image. It is also crucial to implement this strategy in a way that demonstrates not only their intentions, but also how the brand is mobilizing its time, capital and resources to drive meaningful change. Here are three social impact storytelling trends on the rise, and tips for how to make the most of them:
CEOs As Social Activists
There has been a rise in activism among consumers, employees and other stakeholders encouraging businesses to act more sustainably and with greater transparency, and most importantly, to deliver on the company’s promise of social change. Consequently, CEOs are increasingly taking a stand on controversial issues.
In fact, the phenomenon is so vast that PR firms are even building entire practices around CEO activism. Considering the fact that 92% of employees believe it’s important that their employer’s CEO speaks out on issues like income inequality, diversity, climate change and immigration, CEOs must carefully craft messaging that addresses society’s most pressing problems in a way that’s both genuine and believable.
To do this, CEOs should get personal. This means identifying causes that are directly related to the business and talking about why these causes matter. Companies with the most compelling social impact initiatives have identified the issue areas where they can help drive the greatest impact utilizing their resources. As more and more CEOs enter the arena of social activism, companies will need to shift their messaging to showcase the direct impact they are making. CEOs should be specific about their company’s social impact strategy and use their platform to report on the actual impact being made. More than platitudes, the CEO must not only say but show employees, investors and consumers that real action is underway.
In Transparency We Trust
The latest Edelman Trust Barometer unveiled the widespread distrust in societal institutions. In fact, the research shows that a lack of confidence in societal leaders is pervasive and that the only people who are trusted among the public are scientists, one’s fellow citizens, or members of one’s community. Interestingly, CEOs are in the neutral zone when it comes to trust. This provides a great opportunity to establish a connection to your company through honest and transparent conversations with the public.
When it comes to social or sustainability efforts, companies must be transparent. This is especially true when communicating the company’s core values, its social and substantiality benchmarks, and the resources it’s allocating to achieve these commitments. Being open about how much progress the company has made toward achieving its goals is critical to establish trust between employees, consumers and other key stakeholders.
In addition, companies should also be open with their failures and explain why certain social or sustainability experiments went wrong. This can provide the basis for improvement, helping your company and others by identifying setbacks in the social impact creation process. An added bonus is that consumers are more positive about companies when they admit their mistakes.
Social Impact Beyond Grant-Making And Philanthropy
While many companies already engage in corporate philanthropy and charitable giving, there is an opportunity to incorporate social impact across the company’s entire value chain. For example, sourcing and procurement teams can embed social impact funding opportunities directly into their requests for proposals (RFPs) to generate new sources of funding for impactful nonprofit programs. The sales arm of an organization can leverage social impact as a unique sales differentiator to close more deals, improve client relations and fund a nonprofit that is advancing the company’s key social and sustainability goals. Marketing campaigns should raise awareness and funding for nonprofit partners.
These innovative approaches provide new impact stories that your employees, investors and customers will want to hear. Consider your most important internal customers: your employees. Tell them how your company is doing more than traditional philanthropy by fundamentally changing the way you operate. These efforts can simultaneously increase employee engagement and showcase the company’s commitment to purpose.
The demand for businesses to help solve society’s most pressing issues will only grow over the coming decade as we approach major deadlines like the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The time is now for businesses to adopt new approaches to delivering impact and telling powerful stories that propel our social progress forward.