Open for Discussion?

Yazan : Jonathan Ballantine 5 Ekim 2009 Pazartesi

Part One - Open for discussion?
The digital revolution presents a golden opportunity for any company wanting to engage with stakeholders on sustainability issues. Consumers, NGOs & Employees are already using a wide range of available social media.
Social media and sustainability share similar histories and future paths - both started out as bottom-up movements, both go against mainstream beliefs and both present the same set of issues when integrating into a company’s DNA / core values. It is unclear with whom the responsibilities should reside, which departments will be involved, and what new position(s) should be created. The truth is that social media and sustainability can be integrated and adopted at every level.
What unites social media and sustainability is their focus on people as individuals. They also put a premium on cultivating long-term relationships based on value and trust as well as on building networks and community. Everyone has a voice and every voice counts. Every voice is its own. Every voice is unique.
The social media ROI debate rages on. Sustainability is equally challenging to measure. While measuring ROI remains a challenge, the fact that ROI exists is not in dispute. Both social media and sustainability are still in their infancy as measurable concepts, possibly because they’re both so new and untested that way.
Sustainability requires doing more with less, constantly learning how to get more out of every pound of material and watt of energy. The creation and communication of this knowledge occurs in social networks of relationships, empowered by social media, which offers brilliant ways for businesses to demonstrate and apply their transparency, and to connect with their stakeholders. How should your company be using social media to engage with stakeholders?
As social media technologies continue to grab share of consumers’ time spent online companies would do well to consider how to tap into the broad reach of these platforms in communicating their progress on sustainability and the environment. Engaging in social media is one way for companies to show transparency about their sustainability – especially for multi-national corporations – to a particular stakeholder group.
As individuals become ever more powerful in ‘streaming’ the information they want and filtering out what they don’t want to hear, any successful green marketing strategy should place digital at its core. But how?
Firstly, businesses need to realise that social media engagement is not advertising – it is “earned” not “paid for”. Seth Godwin (entrepreneur and agent of change) during the American Express Open Conference highlighted that organisations can earn the privilege by “going out of their way” by doing something for somebody and / or by creating a “worthwhile exchange”.
Secondly, CSR communicators must create content that resonates with particular communities – crafting a credible and interesting narrative that is compelling to their audience, so that they are driven to share within their communities. Then they can create and drive advocacy. Many experts claim the key to success is to be REAL or Authentic – which to me sounds not to unlike the core requisites of stakeholder engagement. Why? Because social media is no different to genuine sustainable business. It most be core to the business and not a bolt on / marketing tool.
Companies that are committed to real, embedded stakeholder engagement have already embraced many of the elements of effective social media engagement. The major challenge to these businesses is not one of content but one of resources. How does an organisation manage the process - which is time consuming and goes against ingrained management concepts and processes?
A key requirement of social media effectiveness is to be ubiquitous. Therefore, mapping internal responsibilities is crucial if your organisation is going to convince its target audience that it is what it says it is. Engaging your company’s story through social media need not be the exclusive domain of the CSR or communications department. As CSR becomes more integrated into the business, having business or functional leaders communicate on embedded initiatives will have a stronger impact, through greater transparency and authenticity – the keys to unlocking social media.
Part Two – The What, The Who, The Where and The How
According to Ofcom’s sixth annual Communications Market Report, Social networking is growing more slowly than previously. Facebook cemented its position as the most used site, growing by 73percent since May 2008 to reach a monthly unique audience of 19 million, compared to 5 million for MySpace and 4 million for Bebo. But new services are still growing fast – Twitter now has 2.6 million unique users, up from 150,000 in May 2009.
Social networking is also maturing - literally. Use grew fastest among 35-54s – up by eight percentage points since Q1 2008 to 35 percent. Among 25-34 year olds use grew by six percentage points to 46 percent but it actually fell slightly among 15-24s – by five percentage points to 50 percent.
According to Technorati, corporate bloggers comprise 12 percent of the active blogosphere. Blogging, it seems, is no longer optional. A blog is a next-generation website, and the foundation of your social media strategy. An effective blog enables you to have a two-way conversation with stakeholders – the cornerstone of genuine stakeholder engagement.
The facilitation of a CSR blog represents an attempt to connect with people about responsibility issues in a potentially more personalised and interactive way than corporate reports, press releases and TV commercials.
In preparation for this article I wanted to see how many “CSR” type blogs existed. I was able to find five CSR blogs that could provide valuable insight for those considering going down this route.
My first encounter was with CSR@Intel - which was launched in 2007. The blog was created by their director of corporate responsibility at the time, Dave Stangis. Intel isn’t the only company to have a CSR blog. Two others of note are McDonalds and Sun.
McDonald’s “Open for Discussion” - which was launched in 2006 by Bob Langert, Director of CSR. Sun’s blog is called Innovation + Responsibility, and helps keep Sun employees on the same page with regards to CSR. This public blog is managed by Marcy Scott Lynn, Director of CSR at Sun, who claims the blog enables her to communicate a vision to Sun employees and provides transparency amongst stakeholder groups.
Just like other, traditional forms of stakeholder management – a blog should be implemented and used as a genuine attempt to help in the identification, development and implementation of solutions. The more corporations simply use CSR blogs as another vehicle to "get their message out", the less successful they will be.
How do you get heard / incentives for building community and keeping your community engaged?
As social media and social networking becomes ubiquitous and automated sign ups for subscribing to friends increases, social media technologies face the danger of becoming less relevant to participants. Not because of motivation, but merely because of time. If you have 10,000 twitter followers how likely is it that you will have the time to read every tweet; increasingly low. This becomes the central paradox to business – the more successful the blog/tweet etc in soliciting comment the greater the challenge to provide personalised responses.
In his book, Strategies and Tools for Corporate Blogging, John Cass provides an effective solution. John writes about the right approach to conducting engagement using blogs. Rather than pitching people, he suggests that companies should have their employees actually engage community members through blogs. “Read other people's blogs, and write content that speaks to the person who wrote a post, rather than just try to prove a point on a blog post, or sell their own ideas or products.” He remarked.
Both John Cass and Seth Godwin highlight the importance of building real relationships. The major problem of the internet is the sheer quantity of sites, tools, platforms that come from nowhere and allow for what Godwin calls “fake networking”. It is important to avoid the temptation of being seduced by the volume of social media – the majority of users will click, join or follow anything – be they participate, or maintain only a few. This distinction is crucial being followed or having a high volume of friends is meaningless if there is no active exchange between the two parties.
Engagement is created (and maintained) with “engaging” content or by creating a “meaningful exchange”. Agreeing with Godwin I believe that organisations do need to “go out of their way” in order to earn the privilege. Which reminded me of Don Corleone in the film The Godfather, who does somebody a “favour” but asks for nothing in return (albeit on the premise that one day it may be “called in”).
A change of tone…
I've been captivated with the idea of ongoing dialogues that help create genuine stakeholder engagement, and examining the nexus with social media.
For many social media / blogging resembles a new style of communicating, where contributors are writing about their responses and reaction to facts - subjective writing instead of objective. Many bloggers attempt to be objective but also express their opinion, except with blogging the subject and writer are one and the same.
It could serve CSR / Communications / PR types to embrace this changing style in communications and try to tell a story around corporate achievements. Stories are easier to follow and relate to than pure facts. Ask yourself how many CSR reports create an interesting narrative rather than an exercise in self-congratulation?
Many CSR practitioners see the long-term potential for social media as a complementary tool for CSR communications – particularly around “engagement”, “community building” and “reporting”. As to the “how”, “where” and “when” will always depend on the issue and / or stakeholder. “Some topics / issues are complex and may lend themselves better to a series of in-person or on the phone conversations”, commented Fallender.
Organisations that smartly integrate the use of social media with traditional bricks and mortar channels within their overall CSR communications strategy will be best placed to respond at the right time, using the right channel and with the right content.
Look who’s engaged
It can be argued that those companies without a social media presence find themselves in the scarce minority. According to one US survey by Wetpaint / Altimeter, despite the economic downturn companies perceive social media as an indispensable marketing tool.
The Wetpaint / Altimeter study is interesting as it tries to measure the financial value of social media, based on the Top 100 brands. The surprising conclusion from this study found that these brands are experiencing a direct correlation between financial performance and deep social media engagement, and concludes that “socially engaged companies are in fact more financially successful.”
This highly useful report gives good insight into how major companies are engaging with their customers and communities using social media, and lists the top 10 brands in terms of engagement as being:

  1. Starbucks
  2. Dell
  3. eBay
  4. Google
  5. Microsoft
  6. Thomson Reuters
  7. Nike
  8. Amazon
  9. SAP
  10. Intel
What is interesting is that the top 10 include 7 IT/internet businesses; plus one – Thomson Reuters – that relies heavily on technology to distribute its products; and two others in Starbucks and Nike that, respectively, would like to be seen as the preferred source of beverages and footwear for Generations X and Y. Is social media more suitable for all consumer or technology type organisations?
Part Three - Social media and the enterprise
There’s been much debate about who owns social media in the enterprise. Social media for sustainability can be handled by a number of departments (CSR, External Communications, Marketing and or PR).
It is important to remember that no matter who “owns” social media is that anyone in the company can be “on” social media, then therefore they are part of the umbrella, right?
During research for this feature story the general consensus of thought was thought social media should be managed in the same way that it was developed i.e. bottom up. Every employee can be trained and then encouraged to engage in “mini-engagements” which collectively become the voice of an organisation.
The burning question behind all of this is how does a company ensure that those involved in these mini-engagements are all singing from the same hymn sheet? Most CEOs/Marketing and Corp Affairs Directors would react in horror to the possibility of inconsistent messages flying hither and yon – especially on sensitive subjects such as climate change, supply chain, diversity etc.
 CSR / Communication professionals need to educate employees on how to talk about the sustainable impacts of a company / products, and know that monitoring and response across all these new channels is part of their new job. This coordinated bottom-up approach increases authenticity and demonstrates that sustainability is embedded across the organisation. Win win!!!
Placing the responsibility squarely on one function tends to create a moulded approach and dilutes the effectiveness, rendering the exercise meaningless. Intel introduced their blog program two years ago as a new business tool for their customers and employees to directly communicate and collaborate from keyboard to keyboard. Although grassroots employee blogging started as early as 2003.
Going against the traditional communications protocol, where only a select few can speak out on behalf of the organisation, Intel wanted employees to get involved online. Within 12- weeks, over 700 Intel employees had “raised their hands” and volunteered to tell their story, lend their experience and share their knowledge directly on places like Twitter, Facebook, et al. Intel’s on-domain social media offering now totals over 35 blogs and vibrant communities. The basis of this strategy is to:
  • Build community
  • Engage others
  • Empower employees
  • Expand the conversation
  • Strengthen relationships through active listening
  • Be social media leaders
  • Amplify Intel and our brand
In December, Intel launched a global initiative and training program (Digital IQ) that is open to all employees to become active participants in all forms of social media. They built this framework to ensure employees are successful, to protect their own privacy online and to engage in ways that are consistent with our ethical and corporate standards. Also at this time, Intel posted its Social Media Guidelines online. And while there are plenty of caveats to ensure that employees respect Intel’s privacy policy and other rules, there’s no denying that this is an astounding bit of empowerment.
What’s incredible is that Intel isn’t just allowing workers to use social media for work purposes; it’s encouraging them to be themselves while doing so.
Here is a brief summary
“Emerging platforms for online collaboration are fundamentally changing the way we work, offering new ways to engage with customers, colleagues, and the world at large. It's a new model for interaction and we believe social computing can help you to build stronger, more successful business relationships. And it's a way for you to take part in global conversations related to the work we are doing at Intel and the things we care about.”
If you participate in social media, please follow these guiding principles:
  • Stick to your area of expertise and provide unique, individual perspectives on what's going on at Intel and in the world.
  • Post meaningful, respectful comments—in other words, no spam and no remarks that are off-topic or offensive.
  • Always pause and think before posting. That said, reply to comments in a timely manner, when a response is appropriate.
  • Respect proprietary information and content, and confidentiality.
  • When disagreeing with others' opinions, keep it appropriate and polite. Intel strives for a balanced online dialogue – moderating content using three guiding principles:
“The Good”, “the Bad”, “but not the Ugly”
If the content is positive or negative and in context to the conversation, then Intel will approve it, regardless of whether it's favorable or unfavorable to them. However if the content is ugly, offensive, denigrating and completely out of context, then Intel reject the content.
Intel’s policy on Social Media goes against normal corporate practice. At a time when many businesses are considering (or already are) banning the use of social media in the workplace, Intel is entrusting its employees to do what’s right and transparent.
McDonald's is no stranger to public criticism – whether contributing to obesity or the destruction of Amazonian rainforests. Good thing McDonald's has a "corporate responsibility blog" to discuss such topics. During an interview with Bob Langert, founder of the blog, he highlighted the idea was conceived with the notion of “wanting to join the discussion” around hot topics and “being part of the dialogue”.
Unlike Intel, McDonald’s maintains their blog centrally, via the CR / Communications departments which Langert oversees. Although an understandable approach in the beginning it would be interesting for McDonald’s to perhaps reach out across the business.
It is obvious to see why the two companies have such a contrasting approach – Intel is viewed as an innovative high-tech business (that powers social media) with a culture for openness. McDonald’s, on the other hand, is very open to public criticism and has had its fair share of enemies in the past. Hence the need hitherto for a more guarded approach. From the conversations with McDonald’s they are fully committed to social media and claim it has fully exceeded their goals.
Moving forward it would be interesting for more businesses to join the ranks of McDonald’s, Intel or Sun. Heck, if the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is prepared to open themselves up through social media then why not major corporations, banks or even government departments. Recently, the MoD published a set of guidelines which tells British troops how to use social networking websites such as Twitter or Facebook to keep the world informed of what they're up to.
In my previous article - Building Trust Through Corporate Stakeholder Engagement - I concluded that stakeholders will continue to demand greater degrees of transparency, governance and accountability from both the private and public sector. The private sector has an opportunity to reposition itself, and lead by example. It is imperative for today’s business to be proactive and self-effacing and deal with emerging mediums.
In the UK, McDonald’s is engaging debate with its customers and has set up an interactive website called “make your own mind up” which enables people to find out anything they would like to know about McDonald’s food, business, people, working practices etc.
This site aimed to open up McDonald's to all its customers, showing exactly where the food comes from and how it was processed. Users were invited to ask whatever questions they wanted about the food and the business, and a team of experts answered them with input from McDonald's.
The site has been a massive success, attracted over half a million visitors and 15,000 questions, and goes down as a significant experiment in how big brands can communicate on the web - and one that has turned out very well for both the company and its customers.
Another company that has managed to gain some mileage from social media is the Green Mountain Coffee Roasters in the US. Although their involvement with social media and CSR has been limited, so far has primarily been through, they have managed to have had some success.
“We used the platform to promote our recent Changing Climate Change Request for Proposals”, remarked Michael Dupee, Vice-President of Corporate Responsibility.
What they did was to invite proposals from organisations working on climate change in one of four key areas: “threats to coffee-growing communities”, “transportation-related emissions”, “building political will”, and “empowering individual action”. Potential applicants were asked to post their idea on JustMeans and invite their network / constituencies to click on to the contest page to vote or comment. “We sifted through the initial submissions to identify 15 finalists, then picked 1 winner in each of the 4 categories - winners each received a 5 year grant worth $200,000 ($40,000 per year)”.
At the initiation of the RFP on JustMeans, Green Mountain Coffee had approximately 30 people in their JustMeans network and a new Twitter account with no followers. Just one month later they had over 30,000 people in their JustMeans network and over 6,000 followers on Twitter. “Through the initiative, we received over 1 MM page hits with over 100,000 of them unique, and over 100 grant applications from all over the world. Hugely successful initiative!”, concluded Dupee.
During the interview with Green Mountain Coffee, Dupee highlighted their next challenge is how they continue to engage productively with these people that have self-identified themselves as interested in their CSR work.
The reality for any business that has an online presence today is that it needs to have deployed and dedicated resources listening and responding in real-time where consumers are talking about their business. Senior leaders that fail to see the value in having a strategy for dealing with social media are missing a large opportunity to connect with and build trust with stakeholder groups, including employees and consumers. Social media is far from a fad, and the sooner businesses truly engage in the medium, the faster they will learn and the better prepared they will be.
Nothing doing may have serious consequences.
Part Four - Social Media & Employee Engagement
As corporate responsibility matures within major global brands, one of the next big challenges is how to drive CSR and sustainability deeper into the corporate culture and engage all employees, not just employees with “CSR” type jobs like EHS engineers, community relations, supply chain responsibility, or corporate diversity.
But what does this look like in practice? How do you communicate sustainability goals and objectives to 10,000 employees in 50 countries? How do you tap into and align grassroots efforts already underway? How do you give employees who are passionate about the environment and community service a voice and opportunities to take action?
Over the past year, a number of groups internally at Intel have been working to take their internal employee communications and engagement around CSR to the next level - including creating a new internal employee portal/online community forum where employees can connect on environmental sustainability activities. “It’s somewhat of a daunting task and of course we’re looking at this as a long-term initiative - but we’re already seeing some good results”, commented Suzanne Fallender, CR Manager at Intel. “Our “Green Intel” online community has gained some 1,500 members in just three months since we launched it, making it the largest single employee group on Intel’s internal community platform”
During an interview with Intel for this feature story they were keen to share two examples from their internal engagement plans.
First is the example of a video from Will Swope, Intel’s VP of Sustainability, which was rolled out to all employees through the employee portal last week. The video spawned good employee comments, including suggestions of specific actions that Intel or employees could take to further reduce energy use across the company.
The second example is their Sustainable In Action Program, which employees can submit project ideas for funding to share Intel’s expertise in environmental sustainability with communities around the world. Recent project examples have included one in Malaysia where Intel partnered with the Penang Inshore Fisherman Welfare Association and the local community to plant 5,000 trees to help conserve the coastal mangrove forests, and Project WET (Water Education for Teachers), which involved the development and distribution of classroom-ready teaching aids on the topic of water conservation.
“I know there are lots of companies out there working to engage their employees in different ways - including Walmart’s Personal Sustainability Plans, eBay’s green team, Sun’s “Every Job is an Eco Job” campaign, and Genentech’s GreenGenes as well as a nice video on BMO Financial Group’s recent efforts - and it seems to me that this is a topic in the CSR space ripe for sharing best practices”, remarked Fallender.
Is social media the missing link to embedding CSR across the business?
Jonathan Ballantine is a European based communications specialist where he advises leading businesses, NGOs and professional service firms on CR & sustainability issues. He excels in the brokering of collaborative partnerships between businesses and NGOs. In 2007, he was appointed to the advisory board of a European Supply Chain & Logistics trade association, where he acts as counsel on sustainable supply chain management. He is proficient in Spanish and has served as a Volunteer Surf Life Saver in Australia for two years. Jonathan now lives in Madrid, where he is training to be a golf instructor. He is available by email at or through his blog, CR Vision



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