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Corporate Responsibility and Social Media

Corporate Responsibility and Social Media

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Published by Huberto Cánovas

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Published by: Huberto Cánovas on Jul 18, 2010
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Corporate Responsibility and SocialMedia...
50
 //Spending Shareholder’s Money Ethically...
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THOUGHT LEADERSHIP
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ETHISPHERE
At rst mention, the topics o corporate responsibility and social media have seem-ingly little in common. The ormer is a recurring topic that emerges every decadeor so under a new guise, whether environmental awareness sparked by the ExxonValdez oil spill o 1989, the phasing out o chlorofuorocarbons (CFCs) in the early1990s, the introduction o the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, or the trend o environmentalprotectionism sparked by Al Gore’s Nobel Prize-winning 2006 documentary lm,An Inconvenient Truth. 
The latter, on the other hand, is a still-evolving phenomenon borne out o theperect storm o technological innovation,accelerating globalization and economicturbulence—not to mention signicant revi-sions to the standards o business commu-nication. However, especially in the contexto communication in the modern businessenvironment, corporate responsibility andsocial media share inextricable similari-ties—namely, a proound eect on compa-nies’ reputations and, in turn, bottom lines.Indeed, corporate responsibility (CR)—which, broadly speaking, encompassesthe theories and practices o corporatesocial responsibility, sustainability, corpo-rate citizenship, ethics, issues advocacy,environmentalism and/or community rela-tions—and social media have both madetheir respective entrées into the businessvernacular, but neither are “trends” thatwill be eradicated by or replaced withsomething equally feeting. Rather, corpo-rate leaders must accept their respectivesignicance and then adapt their commu-nication strategies accordingly; their cor-porate reputations—not to mention theirsurvival—depend on it.
Mutually Inclusive: The Convergence o Corporate Responsibility & Social Media
When considered independently o one an-other, the arguments in avor o implement-ing both CR and social media strategies arecompelling, especially in terms o deend-ing and enhancing corporate reputations.To begin with, statistically speaking, CRinitiatives can shape various constituents’opinions o/condence in/support o compa-nies’ products and services (see Sidebar onpage 52).At the same time, so do social media initia-tives. In act, recent research conrms thatthe depth o a company’s engagement insocial media can be directly correlated withits nancial perormance; specically, thosebrands that are deeply engaged in socialmedia outperorm peers in terms o revenuegrowth, gross margin growth and net mar-gin growth.But “engagement” does not simply reer tothe ownership o social media platorms. Acompany might play a passive role in socialmedia, but that doesn’t mean it participatesin conversations with its constituents. Par-ticipation is a matter o “talking back”—notas a deensive measure, but as part o theexchange o ideas between and amongcompanies and their audiences.Which brings us to CR and social media’sintertwined relationship. Constituents aremore likely to purchase/work or/invest in
CORPORATE RESPOnSIbILITy AnD SOCIAL MEDIA
Written byPaul Argenti, Proessor, Dartmouth
ETHI_Q4_2009_Argenti.indd 21/11/10 11:18 AM
 
THOUGHT LEADERSHIP
WWW.ETHISPHERE.oRgETHISPHERE
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socially responsibility companies, while,at the same time, the emergence (andsubsequent prolieration) o social mediaplatorms like Twitter, blogs and socialnetworks has empowered the very sameconstituents to trumpet their opinions o these companies to vast audiences. Thus, i a company’s CR commitments inuence itsinvestment dollars, recruitment and reten-tion capabilities, and bottom-line results—and i the same company’s constituents candiscuss these commitments via social me-dia—then both are o paramount interest tothis company’s communication strategy.But CR and social media’s relationship issymbiotic or reasons beyond this sharedinterest; executives can use social mediaplatorms to communicate their CR initia-tives and, in turn, enhance their reputa-tions, as we will see by the examples pre-sented in the next section. But frst, thereis another similarity that corporate leadersmust understand: CR and social media can-not be presented as campaigns executedover a fnite period o time. They must in-stead be ongoing commitments that growalongside the organization with no “enddate” in sight.
Socializing Responsibility: Communicat-ing CR Initiatives via Online Platforms
Certainly there is more than enough data toprove CR and social media’s respective im-portance to businesses, but one must alsoconsider the reputational risks that emergerom misusing either activity to engage con-stituents. In terms o corporate responsibil-ity, that misuse is best described as “green-washing,” which, according to Wikipedia, is“the practice o companies disingenuouslyspinning their products and policies as en-vironmentally riendly.” Any CR eorts thatconstituents perceive as greenwashing willhave potentially devastating eects on thecompany’s reputation.In terms o executives’ misuse o social me-dia, the pitalls are less cut-and-dry. Onepossibility is being completely absent insocial media conversations, thus increas-ing the likelihood o missing brewing issuesthat inevitably develop into ull-blown cri-ses. Another option is using social mediachannels to push one-way corporate mes-sages out to constituents without listeningto their reactions. Finally, some executivesunintentionally misuse social media bycommunicating in various platorms beoretaking the time to identiy their constituentsand listen to their conversations.Simply put, corporate leaders must viewCR and social media as commitments, notcampaigns, and they must be prepared towalk the walk and talk the talk. Once theyare, the opportunities to communicate CRinitiatives via social media platorms areplentiul:
Online Annual Reports:
As the investorcommunity becomes more interested in so-cial responsibility—and as the regulatoryenvironment demands that more attentionbe paid to environmentally sound prac-tices—fnancial reporting is increasinglysynonymous with sustainability reporting.Plus, thanks to the Global Reporting Ini-tiative’s move to standardize the processo disclosing sustainability perormance,companies are becoming more proactivein communicating their CR eorts. Not sur-prisingly, they are doing so online.Much like annual reports, sustainabilityreports communicate fnancial data, per-ormance metrics, achieved objectives anduture goals. With social media, though,this communication can occur more thanonce a year. In act, those companies at theoreront o sustainability reporting main-tain robust Web sites dedicated to CR. BP’ssite, or example, categorizes inormationby topic (saety, climate change, alternativeenergy, etc.) or easy navigation, and thenpositions these issues in the context o larg-er trends. Plus, the site hosts a “Sustain-ability Worldwide Map” that allows usersto search by location, as well as a chartingtool or investors to analyze and flter databased on their specifc interests.Ford and Starbucks’ CR reporting eortsare also Web-centric, and both include a“materiality matrix,” in which inormationis organized according to its relevance toinvestors and its current or potential impacton the company.Social Networks: Social networking plat-orms like Facebook are ideal or organiz-ing and mobilizing communities aroundvarious causes. For example, WesternUnion launched its “Our World Gives”Facebook campaign in 2008, encouragingusers to support charities by rallying theirriends around various causes and associ-ated nonprofts, including American RedCross and UNICEF.Dell used Facebook to support a contest in2008, in which participants were asked tosubmit artwork on the page’s “wall” basedon the theme, “What does green mean toyou?” The campaign drew more than 7,000artwork submissions, and more than 1 mil-lion users voted or their avorites.
Blogs:
As the number o companies thatmaintain corporate blogs grows, so toodoes the number o dedicated CR blogs.Take McDonald’s: The company’s rostero blogs includes the “Values in PracticeBlog,” which hosts everything rom dis-cussion orums and CR-related news, tovideos and inormation surrounding Mc-Donald’s CR mission. The keys to its suc-cess—and the success o any CR-centriccorporate blog—are transparency com-
DELL USED FACEBOOK TOSUPPORT A CONTEST IN 2008,IN WHICH PARTICIPANTS WERE ASKED TO SUBMIT ARTWORK ONTHE PAGE’S “WALL” BASED ONTHE THEME, “WHAT DOES GREENMEAN TO YOU?” THE CAMPAIGNDREW MORE THAN 7,000 ARTWORK SUBMISSIONS, ANDMORE THAN 1 MILLION USERS VOTED FOR THEIR FAVORITES.
ETHI_Q4_2009_Argenti.indd 31/11/10 11:19 AM

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