Social media: an effective corporate responsibility (CR) tool? It seems paradoxical given the recent bad press of such platforms (see: addiction, mental health, bullying, data privacy). However, social media could hold potential for CR communications and campaigning. If used wisely.
It is already a key digital channel for companies. Over 50 million businesses use Facebook Business Pages and corporate communications on Instagram are increasing rapidly. CR communications should contribute to corporate content. That includes content for social media.
And why not?
Social media is a great way to reach large numbers of people. Over three billion of the world’s population use it. Around 50% of these follow brand pages. So, corporate content published on these sites is potentially seen by approximately 1.5 billion people. This kind of audience reach is enough to make any in-house sustainability practitioner go weak at the knees!
This also presents an opportunity for mass engagement in CR campaigns. For example, in 2016 the British Heart Foundation collaborated with Twitter for Restart a Heart Day. Using Twitter’s heart icon, awareness of cardiac arrest was increased in an innovative way. The campaign achieved over 47,000 mentions of #RestartAHeart in a week.
Social media is not just a tool for campaigning. Companies can use it to tell their unique CR story. Done well, this can enhance a brand’s character and improve customer loyalty. An emerging way for companies to talk about their CR activity is through video content. Heineken’s 2015 Sustainability Report summarised in spoken word is a particularly novel early example. Companies can broadcast live events on CR and publish interviews with senior leaders talking about particular issues.
The dynamism of social media is another valuable aspect. It enables companies to communicate a point of view on topical issues. A recent study revealed that 66% of consumers want brands to take a stance on difficult issues, and 58% are glad to see it happen on social media.
But here lies the issue.
While a company stance on an issue in 280 characters might appeal to some, it won’t please everyone. Detailed communications are vital for investors, who are increasingly seeing sustainability factors as value drivers. Surely, the intricate ins and outs of a CR programme cannot be summarised in a handful of snippy posts?
Or perhaps those snippy posts will lead to snippy CR activities. Company engagements in an issue could become short-term and reactive to reflect the latest online trend. Companies may find themselves hopping from one campaign to the next. Just imagine CR click-bait. Shudder.
And what about B2B companies? Using social media to communicate CR for them is about as useful as a chocolate teapot.
So, social media for CR communications: yes or no?
There are certainly benefits. With just a few words, tens of thousands could hear your company’s CR story. The opportunity to engage directly with consumers on important issues is certainly valuable.
However, this does not mean the end of the CR report. Different audiences require different channels. Social media has its place, but there must be something driving it that is substantive. All moving parts must be working in unison to effectively communicate key messages.