Social Impact Storytelling
Introducing our new series, plus how to write a winning social impact report.
What does effective social impact storytelling look like? Privately and at industry conferences, more and more social impact professionals are asking each other how to craft a coherent, consistent narrative that resonates with investors and customers alike. This may be the greatest challenge facing purpose-driven business leaders today: to share with the market our ambitious vision for how the world is a better place with our companies in it.
In our new “Social Impact Storytelling” series, you will learn how to align purpose with productivity in your brand from incredible companies like adidas, Box, and Sweetgreen. Along the way, I’ll share insights from 14+ years helping companies tell their story, and give you concrete marketing advice you can incorporate into your strategy tomorrow.
This first installment of “Social Impact Storytelling” covers the basic components and goals of an annual social impact report. You may have read one before. They’re especially popular with companies who are committed to sustainable, environmentally-friendly business practices. Increasingly, however, brands are expanding to more thoroughly and authentically incorporate a broader definition of ESG into their annual reports, sharing a more holistic view of what progress they’ve made on the “E,” the “S,” and the “G.”
HOW TO WRITE A WINNING SOCIAL IMPACT REPORT
It is impossible to overstate the importance of crafting an informative, attractive year-end report that clearly demonstrates the mutual flourishing of your business and partner nonprofits.
Here are some of the strongest annual reports from last year.
THE FIVE BEST SOCIAL IMPACT REPORTS OF 2021
I admire how nearly any reader—from a consumer to an investor—could take even a cursory glance at these reports, and still come away with an elevated understanding of each company’s mission.
After going through all in detail, I’m convinced that the obvious time and care that went into their preparation was worthwhile. I also found four core components across all reports that I believe form an effective baseline.
THE FOUR CORE COMPONENTS OF A WINNING SOCIAL IMPACT REPORT
- BRAND COHESION & CONSISTENCY
Airbnb is the example to follow when working to ensure that your brand is well served by your impact program and storytelling.
Their focus on strengthening communities through environmentally and economically sustainable travel makes perfect sense for their brand which, in turn, will make it easier for their guests, hosts, employees, and investors will find it easier to believe Airbnb is committed to making a real impact.
Airbnb became a NetZero company in 2021, committing to offset all of their carbon emissions by 2030. On the issue of global pay parity, the company reports that its women hosts have made over $70 billion on the platform since 2010—more than half of total host revenue.
Today’s consumers know how to discern authentic CSR from mere lip service. While the average consumer is perhaps less likely than your investors to read your social impact report, Airbnb used it as an opportunity to set the tone of the public discussion about your company’s vision.
- DATA, DATA, AND MORE DATA
With three simple—and wildly impressive—stats, Box gives us everything we need to know about how their impact program has grown their business.
Strong, accurate data is crucial to demonstrate your impact and attract customers and investors to your brand.
It’s important to show how ESG programs benefit multiple stakeholders from several different perspectives. Box succinctly captures the consumer, internal/employee, and investor perspectives with these three data points—all while building a powerful business case for their incredible impact initiatives.
- INVESTOR INFORMATION
Nobody wants to hear about how you take corporate social responsibility seriously—and how your efforts impact your business—more than your investors.
Product and consumer safety, for example, are core concerns. By framing safety as a social impact issue, as adidas does, the company is doing two things well: giving investors the information they need, and helping them see why it’s so important to think about social impact.
adidas uses a unique strategy, seamlessly incorporating their impact and annual reports into a single interactive website. It seems completely natural here when ESG and financial information appear side by side.
- MULTIMEDIA ASSETS
By now you have noticed that the companies making the greatest ESG progress—from adidas to Microsoft—make sure everyone can access their wildly impressive stats through as many channels as possible. A comprehensive multimedia approach is critical.
This will sometimes take the form of a dedicated website or summary video, but it will always include robust digital storytelling across social media, your company website, email, and more.
The Rockefeller Foundation identifies five concepts every digital social impact storyteller should consider:
- Strategy: Storytelling must be strategic.
- Capacity: Effective storytelling takes skill.
- Content: Stories must be meaningful.
- Technology: There’s no one-size-fits-all tool for storytelling.
- Evaluation: We can measure the impact of storytelling, but we often don’t.
Remember, your social impact report is just one facet of a broader social impact storytelling strategy, and a multimedia approach will help you share your story and find others who share your vision.
Whether you’re just getting started sharing your social impact story, or if you’re looking for more direct and measurable business results from your impact efforts, if you remember these core components you can will craft a winning social impact report. More importantly, you will effectively share with the world the concrete and measurable ways your company is helping solve some of the world’s most pressing issues.
“Social Impact Storytelling” is a new series from Deed, exploring best practices for enhancing your brand by expanding the market’s perception of your mission. As Deed’s head of marketing, it’s my hope that this series will provide social impact marketers and organization leaders with interesting ideas, actionable advice, and an opportunity to discuss them together.
ONE MORE THING: MY ADVICE ON HOW TO JUMPSTART YOUR SOCIAL IMPACT STORYTELLING
At a time when 80 percent of CEOs expect ESG investments to improve their business results within five years (per IBM), it’s not a question of why to bring your social impact program into the modern era—but how to get started.
Deed is for changemakers who know modern problems demand modern solutions. We have created the most inclusive, insightful, and useful impact tool to artfully bring people together.
Anyone interested in learning how to authentically strengthen their brand through social impact—with effective storytelling through years of sustained, meaningful positive change—should get in touch today.
READ THE SECOND INSTALLMENT: "SOCIAL IMPACT STORYTELLING: BY THE NUMBERS"