Social Media and Sustainability

I had an interesting call yesterday. I was asked if I thought Social Media had a role to play within the sustainability activities of the caller’s organization. Like any good listener I replied, “Why do you ask?”

He told me that his competitors have been using more and more social media activities and he was concerned that he might be missing something.

I asked him if his company was currently using any social media platforms. He said they were on Facebook and Twitter. I asked how they were using them. He said that they posted coupons, tried to track customer complaints and posted recent company press releases.

I didn’t see a pretty picture developing here, so I thought before I told him to jump on the bandwagon and throw open the barn doors we should go back to the beginning and start by looking at his question from a sustainability perspective instead of purely a social media one.

I asked him about his current stakeholder engagement activities. I wanted to know what they had done to engage their stakeholders in their sustainability initiatives. I was told that they post information on their website. I quickly went to the site and saw paragraphs about the amount of cardboard they had recycled, new lighting they had installed and a few other items.  These are good actions, but they were not engagement activities. They didn’t draw me in, they didn’t involve or engage me. That’s what lead us to a discussion on stakeholder engagement.

So, where do you start?

Taking a cue from Andy Savtiz you start first by understanding your current level of engagement by asking several questions:

  • Does your company engage in open, two-way dialogue?
  • Does your company listen actively or passively?
  • Do you ignore?

Do you understand your current attitude and approach to stakeholders?

  • Is it Systematic or ad hoc?
  • Is it trusting or suspicious?

Have you taken the time to identify your stakeholders?

Do you know what issues affect your stakeholders?

Have you asked yourself how your stakeholders can affect you?

Take the time to determine what you want to get out of this engagement!

This last point allowed us to get back to his original question regarding social media. I don’t profess to being a social media expert, but I do know that social media deals with the activities, behaviors and sometimes the beliefs of a group of individuals who gather together online to exchange information and opinions in a conversational setting. So, before you jump in and start talking, thinking that this constituents a conversation, you need to follow the advice of Lon Safko and David Brake and ask yourself: Will this allow you to engage with stakeholders by facilitating communication, collaboration, education or even entertainment.

If you can answer yes and you have identified and understand your stakeholders, and most importantly that you know what it is that you want to say; then I believe that you are ready to let the dialog begin. If not and you still feel the need to jump in, then you better be ready for the greenwashing comments and negative tweets.

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