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Social Media: A New Tactic for Corporate Sustainability?

CSRHUB | Friday April 13th, 2012 | 2 Comments

The following is part of a series by our friends at CSRHub (a 3p sponsor) – offering free sustainability and corporate social responsibility ratings on over 5,000 of the world’s largest publicly traded companies. 3p readers get 40% off CSRHub’s professional subscriptions with promo code “TP40″

By Kimberly Wilson

Social media has undeniably changed the corporate sustainability landscape as companies harness this technology for their sustainability programs. According to the SMI-Wizness Social Media Sustainability Index, the number of companies in its index that use social media to communicate sustainability has more than doubled in the last year. In 2010, the report found 120 of the 287 companies in its index engaged in social media through platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter, but only 60 companies dedicated resources to the mission. In 2011, 250 major corporations engaged in sustainability communications through social media and 100 companies committed resources to that goal.

The companies trailblazing the way include General Electric, IBM, and Pepsico, all of which made the top 10 list on the index. IBM’s Smarter Planet is a website devoted to communicating its sustainability initiatives and uses compelling storytelling that showcases its work around the world in communities and cities. Just look at its Facebook likes to see how popular it has become – 230,952 and counting.

Other companies like General Electric are using social media to crowdsource ideas to find innovative solutions to sustainability dilemmas. GE created the Ecomagination Challenge to find clean energy ideas in America and the winners received $200 million capital investment by GE and its partners. They also developed a strong editorial team to produce content to encourage participation.

While many companies turn to traditional social media platforms for their sustainability strategy, newer platforms are proving to be equally effective tools for companies. Starbucks brought its BetaCup Challenge to the Jovoto community, a website that crowdsources ideas from the public, in order to find a sustainable solution to the coffee cup. The website Causes, which hosted the famous, viral “Kony video,” has also been used by companies like AT&T to engage the public in its sustainability effort.

For many companies, social media does more than boost their sustainability profile, it is a necessary tool to manage their brand. Social media is a powerful way for consumers to speak out against corporate actions and for companies to engage with their dissenters. Companies that don’t manage their brand perception on these platforms can quickly become a target of consumer backlash, like what BP experienced after the Gulf oil spill when a Facebook group “Boycott BP” formed and drummed-up 791,000 likes.

Now that companies have embraced social media for their sustainability initiatives, has it boosted their CSR performance? There may not be a direct correlation, however many of the leading companies on the Social Media Sustainability Index are performing better in general when compared with their peers on CSRHub, such as IBM which has an overall score of 66, higher than its industry average.

Whether or not social media will improve companies’ CSR performance in the immediate future is still uncertain, but it certainly will be a driving force in how sustainability programs develop in the future. From what we’ve seen so far, it is likely that increasingly more companies will incorporate social media into their sustainability strategy in the future hoping to convert their consumers into loyal brand advocates.

[Image credit: AltMuslimah, Flickr]

Kimberly Wilson comes to CSRHub from Northwestern University where she recently completed her Master’s degree in business journalism. In her downtime, she enjoys running along Lake Michigan, going to concerts, and weekend brunches in downtown Chicago. 

CSRHub provides access to corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings and information on nearly 5,000 companies from 135 industries in 65 countries. Managers, researchers and activists use CSRHub to benchmark company performance, learn how stakeholders evaluate company CSR practices and seek ways to change the world.

CSRHub rates 12 indicators of employee, environment, community and governance performance and flags many special issues. We offer subscribers immediate access to millions of detailed data points from our 140-plus data sources. Our data comes from six socially responsible investing firms, well-known indexes, publications, “best of” or “worst of” lists, NGOs, crowd sources and government agencies. By aggregating and normalizing the information from these sources, CSRHub has created a broad, consistent rating system and a searchable database that linkseach rating point back to its source.


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