CSR Storytelling, Made Possible by Video
Depending on which source you read, users of the web spend anywhere between 3 to 40 percent of their time watching videos. Social media sites like Facebook and of course, YouTube, have made videos even easier to share and watch. This trend really is not surprising. Ever since sound films emerged in the late 1920s, people always make the time to watch a good story--and now this indulgence is much easier on a computer. Curiously, corporate social responsibility (CSR) professionals often overlook video as a medium to share their messages with stakeholders and customers. Despite survey after survey revealing that stakeholders find long reports and static web pages dull (and avoid them in kind) companies too often still only focus on a static CSR report and portal. And if companies do produce a video, it is often full of facts and figures. That is a mistake. Stakeholder engagement deserves better. Plenty of evidence exists that prove that people often forget facts and figures, but they remember stories. A good story told by video offers a strong emotional connection because the storyteller has convinced the viewer that their culture, values, and objectives are intertwined. Facts, figures, graphs, and statistics, however, are a barrier to gaining that emotional connection between a company (and its brand) and stakeholders and customers. Too frequently, the purpose of the video is to cram numbers and factoids into a three minute video. The results: first of all, eyes glaze over; the list of facts gives the viewer little room for interpretation; and the message is forgotten. Hence opportunities to inspire stakeholders to identify strongly with the company and its objectives have been lost. In a wired world where some would argue that we are more disconnected from each other, more consumers want to feel as if their purchasing decisions have meaning. It is up to companies to find a way to demonstrate that meaning, and storytelling can achieve that task. One company that succeeds in its storytelling is Timberland. The outdoor clothing and footwear company partners with a two NGOs in Haiti with the goal to plant trees in a country that has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world. It is not clear whether Timberland has any operations in Haiti, but the story resonates: Timberland’s continued success depends on its customers’ enjoyment of the outdoors, and the focus is on how Haitians benefit--not what Timberland gains. The viewer is also free to make his or her interpretations: Timberland wants to do something about poverty--or wants to reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere through the planting of trees. Whatever the motivations and outcomes may be, the lessons of community involvement easily transfer elsewhere. Storytelling should be used judiciously. Rely too much on storytelling, and the messaging appears manufactured or even manipulative. Nevertheless, despite the good work that many companies do, they are not communicating their stories effectively. The highlighting of a few good stories, as in the case of Timberland, can inspire stakeholders the way percentages and fact tables cannot.