Social media and sustainability: seven key lessons

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Courtesy of GLOBE SERIES

At a panel on social media and Corporate Social Responsibility held at the recent GLOBE conference in Vancouver, BC, social media was confirmed as an essential tool to leverage discussions on sustainability into broader audiences.

Here are seven recommendations expert panelists from Microsoft, Treehugger (the world's largest green blog), and Dialog, one of Canada's largest architectural firms, made to get the most out of their social media and CSR efforts. GLOBE is North America's largest clean technology conference and brought together more than 200 exhibitors from 90 countries, including a large Swiss presence.

  1. Listen, listen, listen
    Social media is less about managing downside risk and more about listening to your key audiences. These will not only tell you their truth, but also 'bring emergent thought to the surface, which is key for staying ahead of the market,' Dialog Principal Craig Applepath pointed out. 'This is happening for the first time in history.'
  2. Be authentic
    In the emerging social ecosystem, authenticity is key. Feeding the corporate line either falls flat, or worse, backfires. 'Let the content speak for itself,' recommends Treehugger Business, Politics & Energy Editor Matthew McDermott. Being authentic will also engage your audience deeply enough to 'help you understand what questions to answer,' he added.
  3. Be humble, self-critical and willing to adapt
    Self-promotion is a social death-knell. If your organization can trust your people, you have nothing to worry about. At Microsoft, the company uses social media extensively for customer feedback from business decision makers, policy wonks and green influencers. 'We're on a major push to raise the bar on transparency, and an appropriate tone has served us well,' says Director of Environmental Sustainability Josh Henretig.
  4. Be a real person
    In social, companies are not people. Anonymous corporate voice with lingo and the occasional CEO quote neither gets hits nor engagement. 'People want to know and feel people,' states Senior Director of Digital Marketing at Weber Shandwick Canada. 'Put a picture and a name to your designated social media mavens and let them show their personalities, even if they have a few rough edges.'
  5. Engage over time and on multiple platforms
    Some firms use Twitter for quick internal ping-backs. TreeHugger now gets one third of its traffic from social media, while Dialog uses YouTube and a wiki for prospective employees. All platforms are seen to serve audience engagement in their own unique way. 'It's an iterative process. Experiment, occasionally fall down, and learn,' Applepath encouraged social media community managers.
  6. Be relevant
    Audiences want value, especially in the B2B space. They seek expertise and want their problems taken seriously. Company managers wish to be addressed by specialists who know what they're talking about and can help solve their specific problems. Find out where you can help relieve their pain. By showing them a broader perspective and your examples of best practice deployment over time, you can grow into an industry leader.
  7. Be fearless
    The recommendation most heard - and not just at this GLOBE panel - is not to fear audience reaction. Easy said, harder to do or convince the internal powers-that-be. Those who dare, however, are rewarded with increasing reach, follows, leads and attention all the way up the credibility chain (and down the sales funnel).

Applying these lessons in social media and sustainability

Following these basic guidelines developed in the trenches will get you on the right social path to credibility and relevance in fulfilling your company's social and environmental responsibilities. These basic principles can also be applied to other content being shared and spread through social media and online marketing.

Stephan Burckhardt is an inbound marketing professional with Versio2 based in Zurich, Switzerland, who has worked in B2B and technology marketing for many years in Silicon Valley, Canada and Switzerland. He formerly ran one of Switzerland's top 10 communications agencies. Other things you'll be interested in: The Biggest Changes to Social Media Marketing in 2012; How we took our client Unique Hotels from 400 fans to 12,000 in less than a month; Versio2's Top 5 Facebook Social Marketing Tips; Internet Marketing, the $3.5 million Super Bowl Commercial Way. Free Download: Essential Guide to Internet Marketing.

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