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Learning To Listen: How Social Media Can Spark Sustainability

Not sure which direction to take your company?  Open your ears and you’ll be surprised to find answers all around you.  Employees, clients, and communities may already be calling your company towards corporate and environmental responsibility…and you didn’t even realize it.

The social web cares about the environment

Today’s social media-saavy consumer has a voice.  As a consumer, I know that when I speak my mind online, others will listen.  And I’m not alone.  Every day, millions of people use social media and blogs to talk about what they expect of the companies they do business with.  What do they want?  Credibility, environmental respect, and corporate responsibility.

Companies with a positive social and environmental agenda are celebrated online.  Irresponsible, secretive, and wasteful ones aren’t; they’re condemned. No company wants their brand bad-mouthed. Stay in the light and your customers will become your best allies.

Are you a responsible company?  Twitter perception often reflects reality

A simple Twitter search can tell you a lot about how your brand is perceived.  Let’s take a look at how two very different companies are being represented on Twitter in real-time. Follow the links to see what people are saying about these brands right now:

  • TOMS Shoes is a consumer favorite, and people praise their socially responsible practices all of the time.  People love telling their friends how much they love the shoes. TOMS’s dedication to helping children in need makes customers feel a real connection that carries over into the social sphere. Twitter search: TOMS Shoes
  • On the other hand, online conversations about agriculture biotechnology company Monsanto tend to be much more negative.  Infamously secretive, Monsanto leaves consumers to dwell and speculate on the most unfavorable aspects of the company. Twitter search: Monsanto

The actual results of these searches will always be changing, but we can often reasonably guess what sorts of things consumers are going to say.  Companies with a socially responsible focus are going to enjoy much more praise than those that don’t.

How to monitor your company’s green cred

Social media is a treasure trove of information about consumer attitudes. How actively do you monitor what people are saying about your brand and industry?  Knowing how you are perceived can help you realize your strengths, faults, and opportunities.

Here are a few tips that will help you stay on top of the social media conversation:

  • First of all, if you don’t have a company Facebook or Twitter, set one up right away.  Many times, consumers will want to engage with you directly.
  • Set up Google Alerts to “keep an ear to the ground” and monitor how blogs and the social web talk about your brand.
  • Remember to do Twitter searches from time to time for tweets that don’t directly mention your company.  Use search terms like “(your industry) + sustainability, CSR, environment, or green,” for instance.
  • And finally, be sure to engage with your critics and see if they have any ideas that could help you act more responsibly.

Social media skills must complement real sustainable goals

Ultimately, social media is just a spotlight.  Online communication skills can’t make an irresponsible company look like a responsible one. Consumers are always on the look out for greenwashers.  Set your company apart by truly listening to what your customers have to say.  Let their conversation help you drive your company to new, more sustainable, heights.

Bradley Short is head of sustainability discussions on social media for BusinessEarth.

Bradley Short
Bradley Short is head of sustainability discussions on social media for BusinessEarth.
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6 thoughts on “Learning To Listen: How Social Media Can Spark Sustainability

  1. I just uninstalled something called social connector from my MS Outlook 2010. And it was not easy to learn what it is and how to opt out. With all the privacy invasion by Facebook, stealing peoples contacts, Google tracking internet users every click, is this something I want my company to be part of? Is social media behavior sustainable? Pun intended. LinkedIn, Facebook were all great ideas until they lost it’s original values and decided to get ready for IPO.

  2. @CEO – Your company is permanently part of, whether you wanted or not. It does not make a difference if you decide that you will not participate as a company. Your employees, customers and other stakeholders will continue discussing online about the industry, your company and your products/services. No company lives in a bubble. All you can do is play along.

    @Bradley – Liked the post – this is important issue that shouldn’t be ignored. Monitoring is of course mandatory, but there are different participation strategies. If your company has no talent/experience handling social media profiles, I wouldn’t rush into setting up Twitter or FB. Openness comes with a risk that shouldn’t be ignored. Another thing is the engagement with critics, which should also be considered case by case. Provocative, agressive shouts with no reference to truth should maybe be left untouched.

  3. Thank you, Tuukka, and thanks for reading. You said almost exactly what I was going to say to @CEO. Information has started to flow and once that happens, you really can’t stop it. Putting up walls to hide behind is what is, in fact, unsustainable. The important thing to do now is to be aware of, and successfully manage, the data that is already out there, because it’s not going to go away.

    And I understand your (Tuukka) reluctance to fully participate actively and openly in the social sphere. I am of the camp that believes that transparency and brand interaction is a positive thing that should be encouraged, but I do recognize the risks associated with such openness. To that point I’d say (and I’m aware that this is an oversimplification, but consider the idea), if you’re doing something that you’re afraid of being open with, you probably should stop doing it. (I’m not talking about trade secrets and the like, btw, but generally).

    I completely agree with your point on critical engagement. Shouts without any bit of reality often shouldn’t be dignified with a response..that only adds legitimacy to that which is and was always illegitimate. You don’t want to encourage them.

    Bradley Short

  4. @Tuukka, you assume people will put up with this invasion of privacy like smart phone tracking for ever? right now I see My space is dead, LinkedIn gets flooded with posts from head hunters and social media consultants and I see a lot of people are staying away from Facebook. Google gets cute, you can opt-out from their advertising but if you delete this opt-out cookie, you will have to opt out again.
    I have my browser set up to delete everything when I close it.

  5. While privacy of individuals is important issue, I don’t see how it relates to this particular conversation. This is, among other things, about conversations people are voluntarily having in the multiple arenas of social web, and the importance of monitoring these conversations for the organizations.

    @Bradley – Thanks for you thoughts. I’m actually working on my MA thesis about communicating CSR in social media, so this whole topic is close to my heart!

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