Building brands in a changing society

Few Corporate Leaders Tackling Big Issues Through Social Media

What do IBM, Pepsico and General Electric have in common? They are part of a very small club of global companies taking advantage of social media to share their sustainability story.

According to Wolfstar Consultancy’s 2011 Global Social Media and CSR Report, only 9% of the world’s largest companies are strategically and consistently using social media –any combination of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, podcasts or RSS feeds – to support their social responsibility activities.

For the remaining 91%, this points to a large gap in addressing two of this era’s defining global trends.

The first is a growing consciousness about the need for corporations to take responsibility for the environmental and social outcomes of doing business.  The second is the proliferation of digital channels that allow for consumers and other stakeholders to debate a company’s every action and inaction in the public realm– whether or not that company is taking part in the conversation.

Even among those companies ranked as the most sustainable in the world, comprehensive social media strategies are hard to find.

The SMI Social Media Sustainability Index found that, of the European and North American companies listed on the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, just 22% of these dedicate social media communications to sustainability issues. Interestingly, as SMI put it, few of these companies can claim to be social media novices. At 85%, the vast majority already promote their brands, products and services through social media channels.

And yet, despite the slow rise of social media for communicating sustainability, CEOs worldwide are acutely aware of the need to address consumer interest in their company’s environmental, social and governance activities.

As found by the UN Global Compact-Accenture CEO Study, 93% of CEOs see sustainability as important to their company’s future success. Further, at 73%, almost three-quarters acknowledge that their strongest motivator for taking action on sustainability issues is to strengthen brand, trust and reputation.

Building brands and shoring up reputations was enough of a challenge when communications largely flowed in one direction, from corporation to consumer.

In today’s multi-channel, networked world, the balance of power has shifted. To establish trust with consumers, as noted by Accenture, corporations are now expected to maintain two-way relationships across multiple communication platforms. And they’re expected be accountable for aspects of their strategy and operations that were once buried in social responsibility reports.

A small clutch of global leaders are getting the formula right.  The rest should consider how their brand would benefit from an ongoing dialogue with consumers about matters of importance to society today.

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