Spreading the word: communicating CSR from the inside

Calling all CSR storytellers: an exciting new research project is looking for your input.

It is a skeptical world out there and it is only getting worse.

This year’s Edelman Trust Barometer records yet another drop in trust businesses around the world recording a 2 per cent decrease (from 59 per cent in 2014 to 57 per cent in 2015), and NGOs a 3 per cent decrease (from 66 per cent in 2014 to 63 per cent in 2015).

The landscape is even more disheartening in Canada and Germany where trust in businesses has free-fallen by 15 and 12 per cent respectively in only one year. While Sweden, Australia, Argentina and Hong Kong and the UK are on the list of the distrustful, countries like Italy, Spain, France Indonesia, India, Brazil and the United Arab Emirates are well on their way of recovering trust in businesses. So what are the factors, one might ask, that have led to such dramatic changes and more importantly, what do these changes mean for communicators?

For once, chief executive officers are no longer the go-to spokespeople and authoritative representatives of businesses, but rather the employees and everyday voices, the “people like us”. This means that as authoritative figures lose attention and trust, so do the traditional stories of legitimization that we were used to hearing.  This is after all, the result of the networked society and the ubiquity of technology and social media; in a more incredulous world peer to peer communications continue to be perceived as more genuine and authentic. Communicators cannot and are no longer in control (of messages, of visions, of stories about their organizations).

To capture and harness the attention of the social web, communicators must find new stories of legitimization, ones that turn their brands into mentors and their organizations into supporters of their clients and customer’s journeys.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has the strongest impact on reputation. According to the Reputation Institute, there are seven factors influencing reputation: performance, product/service, innovation, workplace, leadership, innovation, governance and citizenship. As creating an appealing place to work and treating employees well, running the business responsibly, behaving ethically, being open and transparent in business dealings, supporting good causes and protecting the environment are all part of CSR, one could argue that more than 40 per cent of a business’ reputation relies on its CSR.

Considering the rise in trust in peer to peer communication and the rising demand for daily heroes, CSR volunteering programs might hold the key to the challenges of today’s communicators and the answer to the business’ call to contribute to both their employees and their communities’ transformative journeys.

The study

A new international study, the CSR Volunteering Storytelling Research project, is looking for professionals working in organisations of any kind who have taken part in a company-run volunteering program in the past two years. The study wants to identify how reflective storytelling contributes to the employees’ personal transformative journey, influences their perceived relationships and loyalty with their employer and shapes perception of their organization’s CSR programs. If you’ve taken part in such a volunteering program, this is your chance to share your experiences and have your voice heard.

Taking place during October-December 2015, the research will be carried out solely online (Skype is preferred but other platforms can be used as well) includes three interrelated phases, all voluntary. During this period participants will spend no more than four hours with the research team as follows:

  1. 1. A Skype storytelling briefing (no longer than one hour), focused on covering the phases for creating a short digital story.
  2. 2. Creating and submitting a 200-word and three images story using the storytelling briefing guidelines within two weeks of the Skype conversation to the research team.
  3. 3. A post-story submission Skype interview (no longer than 30 minutes) during which participants reflecting the storytelling and volunteering experience.


Get in touch with Professor Ana Adi via email [email protected] or Twitter @ana_adi no later than the end of September, to express your participation in the process.

The team

The CSR Volunteering Storytelling Research project is run by Professor Dr Ana Adi, Professor of Public Relations and Corporate Communications at Quadriga University of Applied Sciences in Berlin, Germany, and Dr Camelia Crisan, Senior Lecturer at The National University for Political Studies and Public Administration (NUPSPA) in Bucharest, Romania. Professor Adi writes and speaks often about social media, public relations and CSR and Dr Crisan focuses on digital storytelling, CSR and civil citizenship initiatives.


Companies participating in the study will receive copies of the research reports together with a toolkit for digital storytelling and a research template for future analysis of CSR volunteering. Academic conferences and publications and professional events will also be included in the dissemination program of the project.

Image: Thinkstock.com