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75% of consumers say they’d take negative action against a company that’s not socially responsible

Your company offers a great product or service at a reasonable price. You live up to your promises and customer feedback is 99% positive. That should be enough to maintain your company’s good reputation, but in 2017, it’s not.  If you want to succeed in business, your company must also be socially responsible.

According to Aflac’s 2016 Corporate Social Responsibility Survey, a company stands to lose up to 39% of their current customers if they’re not seen as being socially responsible. What’s worse, is that 75% of consumers surveyed said they’re actually take some kind of negative action to retaliate such as participating in a boycott or protest or posting negative comments on the web.

On the flip-side, 1 in 5 consumers said they’d be willing to pay more for product if they thought the company was socially responsible. 83% of investors said they see corporate responsibility as “marker for ethical corporate behavior” which makes them feel more comfortable about buying more company stock.

But don’t think you can just run a food drive around Thanksgiving and call it a year. 78% of consumers said they’re more likely to buy from a company that’s known for its year-round generosity than one that swoops in only in times of need.

Aflac found that a large number of consumers believe that companies want to do the right thing, but most see these overtures as selfish acts designed to impress consumers into buying. That doesn’t mean they don’t want you to keep trying. And if you do slip up, 81% of consumers said your previous angelic acts will help them forget and move on a whole lot faster.

What exactly does your company have to do to be labeled “socially responsible”? Unfortunately, no one’s come up with a definitive answer.  Taking care of the environment is one measure that kept popping up in the Aflac survey. Also, taking care of employees with fair wages and working conditions. Some consumers defined it as a general sense of “caring of the community”.  Only 6% of those surveyed mentioned charitable acts and only 5% thought companies should put ethics and values above profits. That’s good news for small businesses with a tight margin: giving of yourself is as good if not better than giving out of the cash register.

A few causes that did rise to the top were education initiatives (scholarships, tuition for employees) and healthcare (particularly funding for childhood cancer research and treatment). Funding for the arts, sadly, was on the bottom of everyone’s lists.

Does that cause have to match the company? Not really, but if you can tie a cause to your company’s mission it makes it feel more organic and less forced – so bonus.

Probably the oddest sentiment to come out of this survey, is the fact that consumers associate innovation and forward thinking with corporate responsibility. This is why many of the most respected companies are tech companies.

As the saying goes, “charity begins at home” or in this case “the office”. Are you sourcing responsibly? Are you treating your employees fairly? Are you disposing of waste in a way that has the least impact on the environment?  It’s vital that you get your home ducks (Aflac!) lined up in a neat row before you launch a far-reaching, splashy initiative. Just think about how embarrassing it would be if you funded ocean cleanup, only to have a reporter discover that your company’s been polluting the local waters for years.

There’s no doubt that a high profile, corporate responsibility program would do wonders for your company’s reputation. But to become a truly responsible company, the good you do should be its own reward.

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