Sky debates business advantage of social value

Sky has attempted to gain a better understanding of how companies can use social value to their advantage, given business appetite to connect more meaningful with society.

Earlier today Sky held a live twitter chat (#ChatSocialValue) with three CSR experts to discuss some of the issues companies are wrestling with when it comes to finding a deeper sense of social purpose. One of the main messages was that corporate understanding of social value needs to be improved if it is to benefit business in a meaningful way.

Zoe Stanton, director and co-founder of social value consultancy Uscreates, felt that more analysis was needed on the subject. “Biz needs to understand for whom they create value: employees, shareholders, communities. What’s relevant for each?” she questioned.

Matthew Yeomans, founder of media consultancy Sustainly, said that it was vital to tie social value to the core business to make it work. “Ultimately sustainability must = profitability,” he tweeted.

Meanwhile David Connor from sustainability consultancy Coethica argued that the agenda was currently more relevant for bigger business given their relative impacts, but that it was important that smaller organisations are “free to ‘feel’ their way and experiment early on”.

One aspect businesses appear to struggle with is making social value relevant for all audiences, not just those working in the sustainability sector. “Understand who your audience is; consider their needs; respond accessibly, authentically & with commitment; and repeat,” Connor advised. He added that language was key, “but so is channel, tone and content”.

Yeomans agreed, and said a good starting point for business was to ascertain what the needs are of different community stakeholder groups before working out how those needs can be met.

Asked if monetising social value was beneficial for business, Stanton replied that it could be useful for the company concerned, but not for wider stakeholders. She tweeted: “Need to identify the VALUE for each which may or may not be £”.

Connor added: “Define monetising … it’s crucial to get wider buy-in from the widest business world. Social value should aim to be a constant win-win”.

In terms of measuring social value, it was felt businesses can become preoccupied with reporting at the expense of creativity. “Don’t get lost in ‘cult of the measurable’. Data for its own sake can stifle innovation,” Connor advised. However he added that companies should budget realistically and understand that immediate gains may not be forthcoming.

Yeomans said that a total company view was needed – customer service, brand reputation and enthused staff could all be good indicators of early success. “Value has to be measured throughout the business – not just where the social investment came from,” he noted.

A couple of examples were held up as best practice in this field – Unilever’s Lifebuoy initiative which aims to change the handwashing behaviour of one billion people by 2015 through the access of affordable hygiene products, and the Big Issue’s devotion to the social enterprise sector – to date, the paper has invested in 160 social enterprises and helped fund other charities to the tune of £20m.

Asked how often social value created by a company is positive, Connor replied: “I’ll be diplomatic and suggest some much, much more than others. I’ll also be bold and suggest even cynical PR led activity can have a role to play. Every org can add much more social value. The challenge is to find the specific sweetspot for each.”

Maxine Perella

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