I’ve been immersed in the world of CSR for about twelve years now, admittedly I didn’t know it was called CSR for the first couple but it’s been one hell of a ride. I can’t even remember when I first heard the term spoken or saw it written but it was me all over, and the rest is as they say, history.
The study of the past has never been my biggest love. I’ve always been drawn to looking forwards and the constant new challenges, technologies and all things contemporary. Give me an Ikea sourced room over an antique laden insurance nightmare any day! History though can often a great indicator for future behaviour, offering the chance to predict tomorrow with a clarity not present in the moment.
We are living in rapidly evolving times. Change is now happening almost faster than we can adapt to and only those who can maintain focus within these tumultuous environments will flourish. One moment of clarity for me was last summer after digesting Clay Shirky’s TED presentation (below) on ‘How social media can make history’ – essential viewing for anybody involved in CSR and the social media circus.
In a much abridged nutshell, CSR has ticked along for thousands of years in one shape or form. From King Hammurabi of Mesopotamia and his code to protect citizens from poor employers to 3700 years later (with many of the same problems) and our present state of business development, regulation and voluntary codes of conduct and our traditional 20th century perspective of capitalism still dominating. Until around the turn of the century the majority of people encountered CSR directly via their employers and only occasionally via newspapers, radio or television if something went seriously wrong somewhere.
Then the world-wide web landed and our wide world suddenly got smaller, becoming increasingly connected, or for our particular purposes, at least more information about corporate activity was available if you knew where to look. If the information explosion instigated by the internet has been key in CSR’s adolescence then the mass distribution and interpretation of that information via social media, as described by Shirky, has unlocked adulthood.
In an agenda that is based upon the concept of transparency CSR is maturing before our eyes yet again as our world comes to terms with the saturation of data and those vying for power as filters and interpreters. We no longer need internet detectives to scour for a crumb of detail about a company’s activities. The problem is deciding which Tweet, blog, video, Google Wave or Buzz we are bombarded with to absorb first.
There are very few stones left to hide behind. If a business is not acting how it should, somebody somewhere will know, then broadcast it, and people like me will be blogging about it before that company’s communications team even hears the first anxious voice – ask Shell about the 170,000 employees who had their details leaked to activist groups only days ago.
Then again even so-called information filters or social media experts miss obvious or accidental manipulations, for example, The Yes Men imposing as the US Chamber of Commerce or Coca Cola’s CEO apparently interviewed by Forbes.com announcing his self-appointment as ‘Chief Sustainability Officer’ – it’s easy not to notice the sickly sweet tone of what can easily be mistaken for editorial content when skimming one article out of a hundred. One key eye didn’t miss it and spotted a non-disclosed commercial connection and alerted the Twitter community.
Who do you trust to provide you with information?