The Rise of Crowdsourcing in Corporate Social Responsibility

02/10/2011 11:47 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In the past few years, we've seen several high-profile corporate social responsibility programs (CSR), in particular the Pepsi Refresh Project (a client of ours), Chase Community Giving and Target's Bullseye campaign, dominate the conversation of how companies are making a social impact.

Any guesses as to the common element across these efforts?


Corporations have inspired people of all ages and backgrounds to action through crowdsourcing -- asking them to provide ideas and help in decision-making on how to tackle social issues and invest corporate resources.

To be fair, these efforts have also sparked a healthy debate, particularly in the nonprofit sector, about the merits of crowdsourcing in CSR. For example, some people question whether the value it creates offsets any challenges it may introduce for individuals or nonprofits that participate. I believe it does, if implemented in the right ways, and have written about when crowdsourcing is most successful.

In response to the conversation around crowdsourcing, the Weber Shandwick Social Impact team, which I lead, decided to research the role of crowdsourcing and social media in CSR. Working in partnership with KRC Research, we interviewed more than 200 senior executives in large-size companies with responsibilities for philanthropy, social responsibility and community relations.

Our goal was to assess how widely crowdsourcing was used and whether it was valuable to corporations, and to examine the impact of social media in communicating about CSR. Here's what we learned:

  • The value of crowdsourcing is widely recognized by executives. A sizable forty-four percent of executives we surveyed say they have used crowdsourcing. Among them, an overwhelming 95 percent reported that it was valuable to their organization's CSR programming.

  • Surfacing new perspectives and diverse opinions is cited as the greatest value of crowdsourcing. Other benefits include: Building engagement and relationships with key audiences, inviting clients and customers from nontraditional sources to contribute ideas and opinions, and bringing new energy into the process of generating ideas and content.
  • Social media is at the center of CSR communications: Seventy-two percent of executives said they have used social media and 59 percent believe it has had a positive impact on their communications with consumers. Interestingly, those executives consider Facebook most valuable (67%), followed by blogs (60%), LinkedIn (58%), Twitter (46%) and Foursquare (44%).
  • With these findings in mind, the question now is how companies will bring further innovation to crowdsourcing their future CSR efforts. I expect it's going to be an exciting arena to work in - with the potential for greater transparency and engagement around corporations' work on key social issues and deeper and more meaningful relationships between customers and corporations.