Consumers expect two-way conversation on causes

NEW YORK: Nine out of 10 consumers say they would boycott a company if they learned about any irresponsible behavior, according to a study by Cone Communications and Echo Research published this week.

NEW YORK: Nine out of 10 consumers say they would boycott a company if they learned about any irresponsible behavior, according to a study by Cone Communications and Echo Research published this week.

The Global CSR Study 2013 is based on an online survey of more than 10,000 adults in 10 countries around the world, including the US, Canada, Brazil, the UK, and China.

While the majority of those surveyed would boycott irresponsible companies, a similar percentage (91%) said they would consider switching brands to one that supports a cause.

The study found that social media has a greater part to play in CSR. Almost two-thirds (62%) of consumers said they would use social media to address or engage companies about CSR.

More than one-third (34%) use social media to share positive information about companies and issues, while 26% employ it to share negative information.

It found that in mobile-savvy and emerging countries, social media has a greater impact on CSR. Respondents in China, India, and Brazil use social media to engage with companies over CSR more than the global average, at 90%, 89%, and 85%, respectively.

“This survey shows consumers have extremely high expectations of companies to solve social issues,” said Alison DaSilva, EVP at Cone Communications.

She said this higher engagement rate around CSR on social media means companies should not view it as a “one way conversation.”

“Companies can have advocates and allies online, but they have to pay attention to them and not just push out information to have a meaningful relationship in the channel,” DaSilva said.

Economic development, whereby companies invest in communities through people, job creation, and infrastructure, is the most pressing issue that consumers want companies to address, with 38% of respondents naming it as their priority. This was the case for consumers in all the countries studied. 

The environment (19%), human rights (11%), and poverty and hunger (11%) are the next most important issues that consumers want companies to respond to.

The study found attitudes towards CSR vary depending on the country. Emerging countries are more “enthusiastic” about a company's CSR efforts, in contrast to European countries, where consumers view CSR as more of a product of government regulation.

For example, consumers in Brazil (76%), China (68%), and India (67%) are “very likely” to switch brands in favor of those that support a cause, compared with France (42%), Germany (52%), and the UK (38%).

Companies must be mindful of the market nuances and that a “one-size-fits-all” approach to CSR does not work, said DaSilva.

The study was published at a time when major retailers such as Gap, Walmart, and H&M have come under fire for factory-safety standards after a factory that manufactured their products collapsed in April, killing more than 1,100 workers.

DaSilva said the situation shows companies need to be “proactive in getting in front of an issue,” engaging stakeholders and taking an approach that resonates with consumers.

“It is definitely a wakeup call for companies. If they are not doing CSR, they better start, and if they are doing it but not telling anyone, they run the risk of reputational backlash,” she said.

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