Friday, 7 October 2011

How can social media help communicate sustainability?

On Wednesday the Guardian Sustainable Business Hub were hosting a seminar on communicating sustainability through the medium of social media. As keen bloggers, tweeters, facebookers, and linkedin-ers of sustainability this seemed right up the street of the Sustainability Team and we sent John Bailey along to investigate....

First up was Caroline Holtum, the Head of Content for the Guardian Sustainable Business Hub who gave us a little background on the hub and how it has fared over the last 12 months. Their first birthday is this coming Tuesday and if you haven’t ventured to the hub make sure you have a look. The hub brings together sustainability research, stories and news from the business world as well as organising events like the one I went to this week. On top of this they have an email newsletter allowing you to keep up to date with the stories of the moment.

Guardian Offices near Kings Cross
Following Caroline’s welcome Matthew Yeomans took up the reins to explain ‘why storytelling is key to social media communications'. Matthew’s first major foray into social media research was while writing a Sunday feature for a major US newspaper that was eventually dropped at the last minute – dismayed that the last two months of research and writing may not ever see the light of day he wrote about his findings and how he got there on a blog. This blog kick started his career in social media and now a few years later Matthew is working as a social media consultant, the founder of Custom Communication and Social Media Influence and has a captive audience of sustainability and communications professionals keen to hear his thoughts.

Matthew took us through the world of major social media screw ups, highlighting a few of the big corporations that have suffered at the hands of the world of social media campaigns. It turns out a lot of them were about sustainability related issues and a large number of the campaigns were run by Greenpeace. One example is Greenpeace’s recent social media campaign targeted at Mattel for using packaging that used pulp made from unusustainable wood sources. Greenpeace used twitter and youtube to create a fun campaign involving Ken breaking up with Barbie, and 'Chainsaw Barbies' being hidden around the UK to draw attention to the issues. As a result of the campaign Mattel have now agreed to use paper that is 70% recycled or sustainable material by the end of 2011. You can see Matthew’s social media screw ups summary on slideshare:

The aptly named 'company screw up chart' shown by Matthew Yeomans
Matthew was insistent that the keys to using social media are to be honest, respect your audience and to be useful – social media grew as a response to PR spin, giving people the chance to rant and complain but also to share. Companies and organisations using social media have to move beyond slick marketing campaigns, know their audience and be where there audience is – this can be everywhere!

James Farrar, Vice President of Sustainability for SAP (software company developing business management software) was next up to explain how IT can be a catalyst to sustainability. He demonstrated how SAP had made their sustainability report available to be manipulated and shared by users using social media. The report can be seen here It contains a breakdown of the key environmental, social and economic impacts including energy consumption, women in top management, revenue and customer satisfaction. The interactivity of the report reminded me of the energy use displays we saw in Hadlow College’s Rural Regeneration Centre and the work that Carbon Culture have done for the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Screenshot of SAP Carbon Footprint
SAP allows users' tweets to appear on the website meaning that they end up with real time, honest feedback from their customers. While this does carry a risk if your customers are not happy with your service, making sure that you are honest, transparent, providing a decent service and responding to your customers complaints and queries. This is a good way of ensuring that you don’t end up enduring the wrath of angry customers. The worst thing you can do is block someone’s tweets from appearing on your site – this will only encourage them to round-up their followers and re-tweet the offending message!

My top James Farrar quotes and tips from the presentation are:

- Treat online engagement as seriously as you would a journalist from a national newspaper
- Tell a story that works with social media (interactive, interesting, useful)
- One dimensional sustainability reporting is like a lighthouse in a bog
- You don’t need a sustainability strategy, you need a strategy that is sustainable
- Never let your CEO have a blog! (Correction: this point was Matthew Yeomans' advice)

(Interesting last point as he said this on a day that we found out our new Vice Chancellor David Maguire is going to be writing a blog - - however as an experienced blogger of ‘GIS Matters’ and arguably one of the most technically savvy Vice Chancellors around I think we can breathe easy, particularly if his first full post is anything to go by! And to be fair, James Farrar pointed out some good examples of CEO blogs.)

David Maguire the New VC at Greenwich's blog
After a coffee and a biscuit it was the turn of Jo Confino, an executive editor at the Guardian to wrap things up before we took on a role-play exercise. Jo’s words of wisdom included one bit of advice for anyone wanting to become a social media leader in their field – make sure your stories / blogs / posts / tweets are sector-wide rather than just limiting them to your own organisation. As we turned to the role play it gave us the perfect opportunity to chat with other attendees at the seminar and of course social media was the hot topic.

Harriet Waters from the Sustainability Team at Oxford Brookes told me that she’d been comparing our social media ‘Klout’ – an online programme that works out how influential you are on the main social media sites. Currently the Sustainability Team’s score is 34 – not bad but plenty of room for improvement. The group also discussed using TweetDeck and HootSuite two programmes for keeping track of multiple social media channels – especially useful if you have a presence on more than one social media network. Another little piece of online software that we will be using at the first given opportunity is software that works with your PowerPoint presentation to bring together all the latest comments people have made about a particular topic. You can download it for free from here:

If you want to follow the Sustainability Team through the various social media channels we appear on click the links below:



1 comment:

  1. Hi there...

    Nice post! One correction -- I didn't say that CEOs shouldn't blog - I think maybe Matthew did. I believe the opposite, I think CEOs and other leaders should make themselves available on line. Even if you can't engage directly others benefit from seeing that type of organic interaction. I have been fortunate enough to engage on line directly with Jack Welch (ex GE) and Jeffrey Swartz when he was still Timberland CEO.