Sustainability, corporate social responsibility, citizenship…there are lots of ways to describe the efforts many small businesses make to run their operations in a more environmentally and socially responsible way.

Whatever you call it – we’ll refer to it as ‘social responsibility’ here – the challenge for many is how they communicate these activities to their clients, prospects and suppliers in a way that is both authentic and supports their overall business objectives.

Why communicate at all?

The first challenge that many small businesses face is deciding whether to communicate their social responsibility activities at all. A study by Georgetown University in the US – Communicating CSR in SMEs – reveals that many SMEs prefer not to ‘toot their own horn’; perhaps feeling that trying to make a commercial gain out of social responsibility clashes with the motivations behind getting involved in this type of activity in the first place. The point worth making here is that making profits and being socially responsible can be mutually supportive objectives; most businesses that don’t make money can’t survive and if they can’t survive, they won’t be in a position to support social responsibility related activities.

Don’t greenwash

The second challenge is down to authenticity: there is no point in communicating what your business does from a social responsibility standpoint if that activity is purely to make your company seem like a better corporate citizen. People can smell greenwash and it can be damaging to a business’s reputations if there is a doubt about the authenticity of your intentions.

Promoting your social responsibility activities

So, having been persuaded that your business needs to be more public in the promotion of its social responsibility programme, what’s the next step?

Here are a few suggestions:

Tell a story

Storytelling should be at the heart of every communications campaign. So think how you can tell a story about the particular socially responsible areas you get involved in. You support a charity – Why? What’s the personal connection? What insight can your business offer? The more personality involved, the more interesting the story and the more effective the communication.

Be authentic

If you find you’re struggling to tell a story (see above), how authentic is your social responsibility activity?

Engage with the traditional media

Surprisingly, not all news outlets specialise in bad news and the local press in particular are ever eager to carry stories about businesses working for the benefit of the local community. Package up a press release with pictures of your latest fundraising initiative, distribute it to local news outlets and you might be surprised at the positive nature of the coverage.

Use social media

Social media provides perfect vehicles – Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Twitter, LinkedIn – to engage clients and others with your social responsibility programme. Tips here include exploiting ways to increase engagement (story telling again), as well as the idea that you’re sharing not selling.

Use your website but…

…don’t be tempted to confine social responsibility simply to that tab on your website that says ‘social responsibility’. By all means have a dedicated area but think how you can integrate some of that content into other areas, from your home page to your service and product pages. You don’t want social responsibility to be an add-on, so integrate it throughout the business.

Trading for good

If you’d like to do more in the way of social responsibility, an initiative launched last year – Trading for good ‘a not-for-profit venture that inspires businesses to be more socially responsible, with a passionate belief that successful businesses are responsible businesses’– provides a great source of advice for ways in which a small business can become more socially responsible. Trading for good also provides help when it comes to communicating your social responsibility activities, including an online business directory on their website; an opportunity for participating businesses to sign up and share information with their key contacts.

Good for your business: good for your community

Good communication should be an important part of every small business’s social responsibility activities. As long as you’re authentic, clear and committed, the benefits can be good for business as well as good for the community you work in.