Page members in China and beyond gathered virtually in April to discuss the state of corporate responsibility communications and how this landscape continues to diverge from the rest of the developed world.

Using the findings from recent research undertaken by the Zeno Group as a focal point, the discussions focused on understanding the differences in perceptions and attitudes toward social issues. The research surveyed over 7,000 consumers, including 1,000 in China and more than 200 C-Suite and senior leaders in North America, Europe, and Asia Pacific. Specifically looking at the findings from China, the data revealed a significant disparity in optimism, with Chinese consumers being more positive than their peers in other markets about the world’s direction.

While economic instability was the one consistent global concern, the findings also highlighted differences in priorities. Chinese consumers prioritize global health and education disparities, while the rest of the world focuses on mental health, climate change, and poverty. Additionally, the data underscored the varying expectations of consumers and corporate leaders, emphasizing the need for a nuanced and tailored approach to corporate engagement with social issues. While global findings revealed that most consumers outside China expect companies and brands to comply with applicable regulations or support social causes relevant to their businesses, the majority of Chinese consumers prefer brands to take a more robust approach to advocacy and even activism on social issues.

Common to all C-suite respondents was a worrying finding: while 61% said their companies have a fairly established framework to evaluate which social issues to engage with, only 25% have a formal process to anticipate, measure, and evaluate stakeholder reactions.

Page members delved further into the complexities of corporate social responsibility and the challenges companies face in meeting consumer expectations, particularly in the context of global competition and geopolitical polarization. Discussions explored the contrasting approaches of multinational corporations and Chinese local private companies in addressing social issues, including references to best-practice campaigns from each.

The pace of change in China, along with its distinct corporate and socio-economic culture, has always made engaging on social issues a challenge, especially for communicators who must satisfy domestic and international stakeholders. What the discussion highlighted is that now, more than ever, one size doesn’t fit all. Communications around social engagement require judgment, process and above all, a market-specific approach.