In the age of social media, building a positive reputation for corporate social responsibility (CSR) means ‘walking the talk’, rather than paying lip service.

If you’re like me, you pay more attention to the actions of companies than ever before, thanks to the advent of social media. We’re now on the receiving end of a constant stream of news and increased scrutiny on the ethical activities of companies around the globe, meaning it’s far easier to keep on top of a business’ corporate social responsibility track record.

CSR isn’t a new phenomenon. The notion that companies should aim to do good as well as make money has a long history, but now plays an increasingly important role in the corporate landscape.

You might think that, as the recession has taken its toll, CSR would have been one of the first casualties, falling victim to budget cuts and cost-saving initiatives – but the reality is somewhat different.

CSR remains high on the corporate agenda, and for good reason – responsibility breeds reputation. Increasingly, consumers and prospective employees cite a company’s ethical practices as a deciding factor in whether they’ll engage with it (or not). Smart companies recognise it’s crucial to engage with customers, employees, suppliers and other stakeholders on an emotional – not just a commercial – level, and CSR has a key role to play.

Organisations who “get“ CSR – Timberland, The Body Shop and Jordan’s Cereals to name just a few – realise that embedding it in their very DNA can make a positive impact on the bottom line, as well as improve company image. (Not to mention putting a smile on the faces of staff and giving customers a warm, fuzzy glow.)

And each organisation can develop a strategy to suit them. Just because your competitor goes out once a year and clears up a local ‘grot spot’ needn’t compel you to get your wellies on and start filling black binbags with discarded cans of Red Bull.

Instead, make CSR strategic.

Häagen-Dazs and its honeybee preservation campaign is a sterling example of how to contribute to the social good in a compelling way while smartly tying it back to the company’s core mission.

Honeybees are disappearing at an alarming rate, and that’s bad news for the global food chain (and not too good for the bees, either). They’re responsible for pollinating one-third of all the foods we eat, including many of the ingredients in your favourite ice-creams. So Häagen-Dazs decided to create a microsite to raise awareness about the issue and has been donating a portion of proceeds from its Häagen-Dazs honeybee brand to fund research on the topic. It also launched a Twitcause campaign through the #HelpHoneyBees hashtag, raising $7,000 in two days.

But there are lots of things companies of all sizes can do, small or large, without impacting on budgets. Involving staff in activities such as charity runs, bake-offs, competitions and coffee mornings can boost morale. Encouraging team members to take time off to volunteer, in addition to annual leave, can also improve motivation, leading to higher staff retention rates.

That same charitable reputation also helps to attract new employees who share your values as CSR is often a key factor for those seeking an employer who will deliver on their aspirations.

And don’t be shy about telling the word about your good deeds. CSR initiatives can be a great way of gaining positive media coverage which enhances your reputation. There’s enough doom and gloom in the media and putting a smile on people’s faces is arguably one of the best reasons for doing ‘the right thing’.

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