When it comes to social responsibility it’s not simply a case of doing good, but being good. It’s become evident in the current climate that if you’re not demonstrating responsibility, you are ultimately deemed to be irresponsible. Which means that getting people engaged through a programme of social responsibility, rather than standing apart and ignoring consumer opinion, has become vital for a brand’s survival.
Books like Herd: How to Change Mass Behaviour by Harnessing Our True Nature by Mark Earls and Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein both allude to this emerging spirit of mass collectivism and changeable mass consumer behaviour and, importantly for PR people, the influence of ‘other people’ or single simple steps on the behaviour of groups of individuals. (One example would be the emergence of floral shrines which have become a common sight in the last 20 years – spontaneous public and group actions of grief and remembrance that aren’t organised, rather organically grow as someone starts the tribute and others follow.)
Ultimately we are a social species and will coalesce around what is right, which is why corporate social responsibility and charitable partnerships – corporates ‘being’ as well as ‘doing good’ – has such a strong pull with the public.
Even amidst the credit crunch and consumer concern over finances, Red Nose Day raised an eye-watering £57 million this year, beating the record set by the previous campaign in 2007 by £17.5 million. Indeed Sainsbury’s revealed earlier this year that its partnership with Comic Relief – a good example of how both sides can benefit from a corporate/charitable relationship – helped contribute to a 0.3% rise in turnover in the first quarter of 2009.
With this in mind, corporate decisions need to fully consider consumer views and sentiment, as how companies conduct their business, both internally and externally, are under increasing scrutiny and traditional models of behaviour are being challenged. With the huge growth in online petitions, Facebook groups (think Busts 4 Justice which garnered 11,000 online supporters in its successful battle with M&S over its bra surcharge), consumer action and more and more people talking online, consumers can, and do, make a lot of noise about a company and any wrong-doings.