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Social responsibility, social media – can’t I just run my business how I used to? (Part 1)

Do companies really need to implement and integrate social responsibility and social media strategies in order to succeed in today’s business world? These ideas didn’t even exist until relatively recently, and most businesses appeared to run smoothly before. But over the last couple of years, rarely a day has gone by without some mention in the news of companies taking on the role of social or environmental steward or engaging their customers and creating communities on the Internet. With all the talk, it seems businesses that don’t incorporate these strategies will look like obsolete outcasts, soon to disappear from the market.

What’s the big deal? Why is everyone supposed to be so social and generous all of a sudden? (And why won’t the Internet shut up about it!)

(In case you can’t tell, I’ve planted my tongue in my cheek here; although I do sympathize with business owners who find these debates confusing, frustrating, annoying, indecipherable, over the top, etc.)

Industry Canada has this to say about corporate social responsibility (CSR):

It makes companies more innovative, productive, and competitive … by supporting operational efficiency gains; improved risk management; favourable relations with the investment community and improved access to capital; enhanced employee relations; stronger relationships with communities and an enhanced licence to operate; and improved reputation and branding.

Moreover:

CSR usually involves focussing on new opportunities as a way to respond to interrelated economic, societal and environmental demands in the marketplace. Many firms believe that this focus provides a clear competitive advantage and stimulates corporate innovation.

So wow, just being a better corporate citizen can do all of these things? That sounds like a stretch to me—wouldn’t a company have to overhaul its entire way of doing business to be so responsible that it would gain these advantages?

And what about social media? Are business owners supposed to believe that just by talking to their customers online they’ll somehow bring in more business? Won’t these buzzwords just go away?

On SearchEngineWatch.com, Ron Jones says social media involve:

Talking, participating, sharing, networking, and bookmarking online. Most social media services encourage discussion, feedback, voting, comments, and sharing of information … a two-way conversation, rather than a one-way broadcast like traditional media … staying connected or linked to other sites, resources, and people.

But maybe you didn’t go into business to “talk, participate and share online” and connect to all of these things. You probably went into business to create a product or deliver a service that you are passionate about. And you were probably doing that just fine before social responsibility and social networking were on most businesses’ radar.

If you feel this way, you can be sure that you’re not alone. No one goes into business to have others tell them what to do—whether that’s the government, or the business community in general, or some upstart group of “experts”, “strategists” or “consultants” (particularly in the case of social media). And if business owners feel forced or threatened to do something, they are that much more likely to resist—with the possible exception of legal and regulatory obligations. Moreover, many businesses simply don’t have the time or resources to develop an overarching strategy, or to hire the people to implement it.

Well, there’s hope and help for you! Come back to see some solutions that don’t need to cost anything, and a couple of thoughts on whether you need to consider social responsibility or social media in the first place.

Adam Gorley
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor

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Adam Gorley

Editor at First Reference
Adam Gorley, B.A. (Phil.), is a researcher, content provider and editor. He contributes regularly to First Reference Talks and Internal Control blogs, HRinfodesk and other First Reference publications. His areas of focus include broad human resources issues, corporate social responsibility, corporate governance and government policies, information technology and labour market trends.Read more
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