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Consumers (Especially Millennials) Still Significantly Suspicious of CSR Motives: Harris Poll


With reputation a top concern among companies in terms of maintaining and increasing market share, it may come as an unpleasant surprise to find that a large portion of consumers say that when companies develop corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs, they only do so to bolster their image. According to the recently released results of the Harris Poll Reputation Quotient, 40% of consumers say companies are primarily motivated by the publicity possibilities of their environmental and social initiatives and are not truly focused on the actual effectiveness of their efforts. And millennials seem to be the most suspicious of an organization’s motives.

Companies now must be authentic when acting in a “socially responsible manner,” says Wendy Saloman, VP of reputation management and public affairs at The Harris Poll. “Fake it and consumers see right through your ulterior motives, risking negative marks against your corporate reputation.” Still, 45% of consumers still believe that companies develop CSR programs because they believe it is the right thing to do.

According to Harris Poll’s research, employee treatment (39%), ethics (38%) and respectful treatment of customers (35%) are the most important corporate social responsibility issues, followed by providing affordable and accessible products and services (29%) and safety (28%).

Recent corporate reputation crises – including Samsung and Volkswagen – may have led consumers to see employee treatment, ethics, providing affordable products, and safety as top concerns. “Although the poll was conducted before United Airlines’ passenger issue, respectful treatment of customers was already among the top social responsibility matters vital to consumers,” Saloman says. With this in mind, companies will want to closely watch how they show respect to customers, she suggests.

According to the poll, the top 10 social responsibility rankings are:
Publix Super Markets
Tesla Motors
L.L. Bean
Walt Disney Company
Whole Foods Market

The 10 least responsible, according to the poll, are:
Wells Fargo & Co.
Goldman Sachs
Volkswagen Group
Bank of America

It is difficult to really excel in CSR in the eyes of consumers, according to poll numbers. Only eight of the 100 companies measured achieved “excellent” CSR ratings this year; while this is the most ever in the 18 years Harris Poll has measured CSR as a major dimension of corporate reputation, it falls far from expectations. Last year, four companies received “excellent” social responsibility ratings; in 2010, zero companies. This year marks Publix Super Markets’ third consecutive year with an “excellent” social responsibility rating and it is Wegmans’ second time in the category. USAA has achieved “excellent” ratings three times overall, and it’s the second consecutive year for USAA and Amazon. Companies making their “excellent” social responsibility rating debuts are Tesla, Lowe’s, UPS and L.L. Bean.

Millennials are significantly more likely to proactively try to influence family and friends’ perceptions about a company because of something they learned about how the company conducts itself, compared to baby boomers: 41% of millennials say they do this, compared to just 25% of baby boomers.

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