Effective Social Media for Sustainable Businesses

As a blogger and social media focused PR person for numerous companies, I spend a lot of my time swimming in the tweets, statuses, shares, +1s and thumbs. I’ve a low tolerance for social media used poorly. There are plenty of examples out there, and it’s clear that a lot of companies are simply trying to transpose how they’ve engaged with their customers previously onto this arena. It doesn’t work.

Noah Brier’s recent piece on Ad Age, “Want to Tweet? First, Teach Your Brand to Speak” hit it perfectly: Act less like brands, and more like people. Especially in the sustainable business realm, people don’t want to be treated like cattle, endlessly herded to deals.

It may seem intuitive to you that these outlets are useful for coupons and deals. We’re in a bad economy and times are tough, after all. True, but we all have “that friend” who talks about himself incessantly — perhaps you’ve had to duck into another room when you see him coming at parties. Brands that only talk about themselves are at risk of being seen as a self focused, chest thumping, attention starved annoyance.

But don’t consumers, especially in the sustainable business realm, want to know your story? Absolutely. And as with any story, it’s got to have some degree of relevance to the audience. It’s got to leave people wanting to know more. Anything else is gratuitous ego stroking.

And there’s one more thing: Brands, stop being wimps, straining your messages through so many bureaucratic filters that it’s about as engaging as the baby food it resembles. Overthought, overcalculated, inoffensive communication will get you quickly bundled into people’s mental black list, ignored and filtered out.

So what brands are doing social media right? 

I’m going to leave that mostly up to you all to share, and why you think so below. But Keen is a standout in my mind. Keen’s Twitter stream is full of what their customers have to say about their products. Their excitement at a new pair and where in the world they went with them. New product announcements make their way into the stream, but they rarely dominate. Customer service? Sure, the answers are probably applicable to many reading, or at least demonstrate Keen’s hands on approach. Everything is centered around the customer.

Their Recess Revolution campaign is a perfect example: They know their customers are primarily adults who have a playful side and a desire to have a balanced life. Sometimes they just need infectious permission like this, where people are encouraged to spend at least 15 minutes a day outside of work, even documenting it for others to see.

Are products front and center here? No. Will this social media outlet generate sales? Definitely. Keen is seen as a brand that “gets” it’s customers– they are urban, creative, outdoor enthusiasts. Keen isn’t just another brand among many that fights for consumer dollars based purely on product merit. It’s one that becomes part of people’s lives, beyond their feet.


Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing.

Image Credit: Sara A Beyers, Confused, Flickr Creative Commons

Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations about, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media marketing. || ==> For more, see GreenSmithConsulting.com

4 responses

  1. Nice summary. I always recommend two things.

    The LCR Mentality – Listen, Conversations, Relationships. Go where your target market is and listen. Then engage in conversations aimed at building relationships (as opposed to selling).

    Relationship building should be a sequential process over time. Like personal relationships, brand relationships do not happen over night. Follow the social media A-Path – Attention > Attraction > Affinity > Audience > Advocate. Think about how this is accomplished. If you want more info, google “social media A-path.”

    Social Steve

  2. Hi Paul, we loved your article “Effective Social Media for Sustainable Businesses” and quoted you in our Lessons for Sustainability Consultants Using Twitter blog … Lesson #1: Don’t be a narcissist.  Thanks for your insights!

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