Key Elements for your Sustainable Social Media Strategy

From a corporate perspective, the relevance of Social Media within a Sustainability Strategy has been rising step by step over the last years. Undeniably, the world wide web has emerged to version 2.0. In former times, it used to be an instrument that is mainly used for providing information to the public or specific audiences – Whereas today, it rather consists of a relevant path to start and maintain a dialogue with internal and external stakeholders. Hence, modern companies are constantly changing their one-way communication to a more dialogue-based approach. Focusing this challenge in an analytic way, I divide this approach to more transparency into two parts: on the one hand, there are the external stakeholders, on the other, there is the corporation’s internal public.

They write bad things about us

Concerning the external perspective, the predominant emotion facing social media consists of anxiety. Enemies will write bad things about our company and our products – a point of view which is slowly but surely blotting out. Experience shows that a corporation’s friends or a brand’s fans are always the first ones to come and to comment. German business magazine Brand Eins featured this issue in detail.

People have always been talking and exchanging opinions on brands and corporations. The new aspect the social media create, is that people now do this online and visible for huge communities, forming groups all around the globe! These groups can be mobilized by NGOs, for instance against corporations who fail to address sustainability issues like child labor or rain forest destruction. Questioning the role social media play in terms of environmental action, “the Green” blog published answers and estimations from different experts.

Crucial: Role of Social Media for your Employees

From the internal perspective of becoming more transparent, the use of social media can play an important role in sustainability management. According to MIT Sloan’s sustainability special report, companies leading in sustainability follow seven principles of success. Among them:

  • Try to be authentic  and transparent – internally and externally
  • Drive sustainability top-down and bottom-up

As cited later in the MIT Sloan special report, SAP’s CEO Peter Graf believes that employees have a key role to play. In his company, so he says, this role was underestimated. “The first surprise was that some of our employees were much more aware of sustainability challenges and potential solutions than our management team,” he says. For other interesting thoughts on this, see the MIT Sloan Survey.

Collaborative Corporate Culture

From the internal perspective the use of social media is certainly only one activity to educate and engage employees in sustainability and enable exchange among them. The more frequent use of social media internally is one element of a changing corporate culture, which now encourages collaboration across departments and business units. The shift towards corporate transparency changes the meeting culture, provides dialogue spaces not only online, but also in the real world. These dialogues can be especially fruitful, when employees of different sectors come together, e.g. those responsible for production and those responsible for purchasing.

Requiring Sustainability Performance Information

The prerequisite for sustainability innovation is a common understanding of the customer needs and the whole production system. Especially within a corporation engaging its suppliers. Up to 50% of the customers require information on the sustainability performance of the products they purchase. Sure, this number will vary, depending on the sector. However, it certainly counts for B2B as well as B2C relationships. Starting with information on the climate impact, which can be provided by a product carbon footprint, the sustainability performance also includes social aspects like working conditions.

Principles of Sustainability Innovation

Knowing the whole production system with all interdependences, implications, challenges, threats and opportunities and sharing this with selected stakeholders internally and externally is an essential fundament for sustainability innovation. When ifu Hamburg asked the users of the software tools Umberto or e!Sankey, how they use the visualizations of the production systems, which are created with these tools, they say, that the most important aspect is that they can reach a common understanding of the production system. An understanding which before – if at all – only existed in the brains of one or two brilliant engineers in the company, is now accessible via models to anyone who has a role to play in the production system. Knowing the material and energy flows, related costs and environmental impacts allows identifying problems and finding solutions.

Facebook Too Time Consuming, Internal Wiki Instead

“Web 2.0 for the production“ is German technology magazine IT & Production‘s August issue title. Their authors state that social networks are used in marketing, but adress a common problem: social networks are not welcome in a daily work practice within production industry, as the productivity can decrease because of social media being too time consuming. On the positive side, the title story is referring to an example for using internal wikis for all production related information, which emplyees use and exchange. Everyone converts into a contributor and continuously improves the documentation in the wiki, submitting ideas.

Social Media for Performance Management

Another approach that supports sustainability management as a whole with social media technology is developed by the German and US-based Company WeSustain. This solution uses social media type approaches to engage internal stakeholders e.g. in data collection for reporting or performance management. One of the advantages is, that questions that come up during data collection or documentation can be posted with a direct link to the related values or topics in question. Which makes the whole system very transparent.

Summing it up, there is no way your company will achieve a satisfying Sustainability Strategy without bearing in mind the challenges that lay ahead concerning social media. Nor is there for us. Welcome to Know the Flow.

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