Five strategies to crack the biggest no-win situation in corporate digital communications

Jason Sumner. Jason is a white man with very short dark hair, a short beard and glasses. He is wearing a light jacket and shirt. Jason Sumner

Can you think of a trickier issue in corporate communications right now than the letters E, S and G? I can’t

For a start, the acronym – Environmental, Social and Governance – is awkward and annoying, before you have even begun to get your message out.

Some of the people you are trying to reach haven’t ever heard of it, but some of them have heard more than enough already.

Say too much on ESG and you are “greenwashing”. Say too little and you are “greenhushing” (yes, it is a thing.)

As the person responsible for communicating ESG on your company’s digital channels, a very real question is how do you say anything at all without inviting a backlash? You could take comfort in knowing this is not just your problem – it is a dilemma for the whole organisation right up to the CEO and the board. On the other hand, the digital presence is where the ESG strategy – or lack of it – is in the full glare of the spotlight.

As if it weren’t tricky enough!

Here are five strategies that the best companies in the Bowen Craggs Index use to transform a no-win communication situation into intelligent, collaborative and audience-targeted messaging on their company’s online presence.

  1. Separate bandwagons from fundamentals: It is easy to get caught up in the ESG hype-to-backlash cycle – the business media lurches from “ESG is going to save the world” to “ESG is woke nonsense”. At its most basic, “environmental, social and governance” is the latest shorthand for talking about a corporation’s responsibilities to the rest of society, and the planet. Corporate responsibility is the real issue for your stakeholders, as our own website visitor research proves time and again. Maybe “ESG”, “net zero”, “D&I” will last as concepts and maybe they won’t. Communicators should use these terms as long as they are useful, but the core mission is to explain how your company is managing its environmental and social responsibilities.
  2. Take the letters one at a time: Critics of ESG say it doesn’t make sense to bundle so many different issues under one umbrella. Unscrambling the E, from the S and the G certainly makes sense from a communications point of view. Investors may still want you to synthesise everything “ESG” into one place, but most stakeholders on your digital channels want to hear about the specifics, and this is where a strong content strategy comes into its own. See how Verizon covers all the bases with an ESG section for investors and journalistic articles and videos highlighting the positive impacts of its community programs.
  3. Get your online Sustainability section sorted out: This is the area you and your team control – or at least have the most influence over. Make sure the section is doing the basics right – logical information architecture, clear labels and outcome-based content. See the Nestlé corporate web presence, for example – one of the leaders in the Bowen Craggs Index. Any campaigns you run separately need to be consistent with the facts, evidence, and progress against targets presented here.
  4. Build bridges with the ESG team: The most effective communications come out of collaboration. It isn’t your job to understand all the details but you will want to understand the pressures the ESG team has so you know the boundaries for messaging. For example, corporate ESG teams in the US are focused on new Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) regulations that mean they are extra cautious about saying anything that can be construed as greenwashing.
  5. Use digital to get a seat at the table and a voice: The digital spotlight can have benefits for your team. Corporate digital channels are a transparency engine, for good and bad. One of our clients said the communication problems we uncovered on their corporate digital channels showed up the company’s lack of policies and message confusion, and prompted a higher-level conversation that they are now involved in.

To discuss how Bowen Craggs can help you address this, and other challenges, please get in touch.