A Field Guide to CSR Reporting and Social Media
Guest Blog by Solitaire Townsend, Cofounder, Futerra
Earlier this year at the GRI Conference, BSR President and CEO Aron Cramer and I launched a debate looking at the emerging world of social media in CSR reporting. Since then, in preparing for our BSR Conference session on the subject held in November, we met global brands and dug around online, and weâve noticed that when it comes to social media, not all sustainability reports are created equally. In fact, they come in three species: the Pigeon, the Peacock, and the rare and wonderful Phoenix.
These species have their own traits, qualities, and habits in the wild. Spotting, categorizing, and comparing them has become one of our favorite sports. Let us introduce you to the spottersâ guide to social media reports.
By far, the most common type is the Pigeon. Dull, grey, and with no distinguishing marks, a Pigeon-style report will have practically no social media engagement or a rudimentary attempt to party like itâs 1999.
How to spot a Pigeon: They are everywhereâvast flocks of them, invisible on social media and relevant only to a tiny audience. Look out for:
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Flat engagement: A Pigeon report will have an email address for contact, it will be launched online with one tweet from the corporate Twitter account, and it will be written by the same consultants, in the same tone (and occasionally same phrasing) as every other Pigeon report.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Dislocated transparency: The Pigeon report may generate interest on social media, even though the report itself includes a stakeholder engagement section unlikely to even acknowledge the existence of the Internet. Responses on fan pages and angry hashtags create an asymmetrical dialogue that can make the company look bad.
The second type is a growing and rather showy population. The Peacock is en route to social sustainability reporting and whateverâs holding them backâlack of resources, a hesitant voice, a resistant boardâwonât be doing so for long. They are eager and creative, but for all the exciting activities around their report, the report itself remains, basically, Pigeonlike.
How to spot a Peacock: These are fun to track, and youâll find a lot of colorful experimentation with making reporting engaging online. Watch for reports that:
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Keep the audience in mind: The report tailors its tone of voice, channel, and content to suit its audience. Look out for microsites, active comments, and people-focused imagery. Some promising models include Telefonicaâs slick microsite report, which boasts integrated sharing tools, catchy headlines, and lots of fresh content, and Ericssonâs social communication, which showcases the companyâs commitment to technology for good.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Embrace social: Matthew Yeomans observed the similarities between social media and sustainability reporting; theyâre both about âauthenticity, transparency, community, innovation, and creativity.â A Peacock might not quite be there yet, but look out for Twitter profiles that arenât just press release bots, an appetite for new channels, and a dash of buzzword bingo. Examples include Campbellâs CSR Twitter account, which is full of lively rhetoric as the company communicates its commitment to âbring our strategies and projects to life from farm to family,â and Philips, which has used Pinterest to create a successful competition for its âLivable Citiesâ initiative.
â¨Phoenix reporters are so rare, they are almost mythical. These companies have seen social media create new value from their sustainability reporting for business, consumers, and the environment. From creating opportunities for relevant interactions to making hard-won carbon savings work even harder, Phoenixes are definitely #winning.
How to spot a Phoenix: Phoenixes put social media at the heart of their reporting approach. There is only one defining characterization of a Phoenix, and itâs a collective approach completely distinguished from the âdecide-report-defendâ model of Pigeon reporting. The Phoenix shares its sustainability agenda and invites contributions. Look for novel partnerships and inclusive language that aims to create a genuine dialogue between the brand and stakeholders. Some examples include Sonyâs Futurescapes and General Electricâs Ecomagination Challenge, which use their audiencesâ ideas (and wallets) to unlock a sustainable future. A big team and strong editorial voice is also a hallmark, which makes a âmagazine mentalityâ for reporting really rewardingâapparent in Coca-Colaâs Unbottled and Levi Straussâ Unzipped.
Although Pigeon reports are numerous today, we hope the Pigeon will soon become an endangered species. Reporting can be a lot of effort for little reward. A social media approach can open up magic, dynamism, and opportunity for those brave enough to take it.
This post originally appeared on the BSR blog atÂ Business for Social Responsibility.
To see more highlights from the BSR Conference 2013, read "The Future of Sustainable Business: Finding Your Power in Networks" and "BSR Conference 2013: Viewing Sustainability Challenges through a Human Lens."