It’s the millennials. Well, thanks to James Carville, you know the rest. They perfected the selfie and log an average of 14.5 hours of electronic device time each day, so you’d be forgiven for assuming millennials weren’t particularly concerned about corporate social responsibility (CSR). But you’d be wrong. Millennials are the leading supporters of companies that give back: especially those with strong, sustained CSR programs.
But what does it mean for business?
In September, Aflac (a FleishmanHillard client) initiated its first study on CSR and how it impacts consumer and investor decision-making. More than four out of five respondents (81 percent) say they are more inclined to buy from a company whose philanthropic work is done consistently and year-round with a cause that is relevant to their business – rather than those acting only in times of need. That is news because it tells us that effective CSR for a business or corporation cannot be an ad hoc proposition and be successful in the eyes of consumers and investors. It must be a sustained ideology backed up by ongoing and frequent action.
This desire to work for, do business with or invest in companies that do good things for the community is strongest with millennials, who have counterintuitively gained a reputation as being, in the overwhelmingly documented words of social scientists and behavioral experts who study demographics and trends, dare we say — self-absorbed. However, in their eyes, social media has given consumers a voice they once did not have and they make that voice heard often, especially when companies do the right thing, and candidly, just as loudly when they don’t. In fact, Aflac found that more than half (51 percent) of millennials link growth of corporate social giving to social media use.
The impact of social media is unfettered access to limitless information, which ultimately enables consumers, particularly the younger and more media-savvy ones, to be more informed than ever. These are the digitally highly engaged who have no problem providing feedback to companies they believe are not behaving responsibly. They know the difference between a marketing ploy and authentic concern for the community.
Here is another interesting statistic that businesses should consider. While salary and flexible work schedules continue to be a heavy influence on where someone will want to work, more than three-quarters of people surveyed (77 percent) said they are likely to seek employment specifically at companies recognized for their ethics.
So, what should companies do?
Well, start by adopting a cause that is important to the community and relevant to your business. It’s not just good business; it’s the right thing to do. That’s why Aflac has supported the fight against childhood cancer for 20 years and has donated more than $100 million for research and treatment at the Aflac Cancer Center in Atlanta. It is a good cause. It is sustained and it is relevant to our business. And it’s the right thing to do. As I mentioned earlier, consumers overwhelmingly favor companies that can demonstrate social responsibility. It’s no longer a box to check off on a survey form. Corporate social responsibility is required by today’s generations, and its importance is only going to grow.
This essay first appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution on December 16, 2015. Catherine Blades is senior vice president of Aflac Corporate Communications.