Lets say that we believe that CSR is a form of stakeholder engagement which companies can utilise in order to structure and work both strategically and structured with reaching persons and organisations who have a interest in the organisations actions. Then how does Social media come in and how can we utilise platforms like twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and blogs in order to reach people who have a stake?
First of all there is the central theme within CSR, that in order to be perceived as a socially responsible towards society a company or organisation needs to know and communicate with their stakeholders. As stated in the ISO 26000 definition an organisations CSR effort is defined as;
“Responsibility of an organization for the impacts of its decisions and activities on society and the environment, through transparent and ethical behaviour that contributes to sustainable development, including health and the welfare of society; takes into account the expectations of stakeholders; is in compliance with applicable law and consistent with international norms of behaviour; and is integrated throughout the organization and practiced in its relationships.
But in order to do all these activities an organisation needs to adapt systems that enable them to get in contact and maintain communication with people who have an interest in its continued operations. Such a system could be social media, which offers a wide range of opportunities for sustained and progressive communication with stakeholders. But the approach is only use-full if the organisation is prepared to embrace its possibilities and live with its consequences.
Social media is highly suitable to use in combination with an Integrated Market Communication (IMC) effort. There are numerous examples were social media is used to effectively communicate with salient stakeholders. Just think of fan-art forums or Facebook groups dedicated to different brands. Such as a page dedicated to small Lego characters or fan art dedicated to the battle between Pepsi and Coca-cola. While some companies have tried to ban and distance themselves from these groups they are a enormous source of information about the people how are most interested in what your organisation is up to, good or bad.
So a good social media communication strategy would be to monitor and systematically collect information that is posted by the fans. And from time to time but not to often ask about their opinion on different subjects from ne products to issues being discussed in the media. These people might be very critical of your action but they are dedicated and loyal to your brand and would for the most part whish the best for its continued prosperity. So do not miss the opportunity to get them act like ambassadors for your organisation they have much more credibility than you would ever hope for.
Social media is good for creating your own story. Blogs and twitter can create a sense of closeness to the people behind the reports and official statements. One thing is to say that you have done things in your supply chain in the annual report another is to make a blog entry or a tweet when you are in the field doing social audits. Most interested stakeholders would like to help you out in your quest to improve your business ethics record so why not use this to your advantage. Live blogging or creating a podcast from a field visit, will make your audit even better and create attention around what you are trying to achieve instead of being a reactive activity you have used the media to be proactive.
Of cause one have to remember that such activities cost resources and time spend on communicating with people who might or might not have something concrete to contribute with. But even though one might not have any direct benefit from this communication it will provide valuable intelligence on issues of interest for the organisation.
Social media is an extra channel in times of trouble. When things starts to go wrong and an organisation are under attack from the media it can be difficult if not impossible to get voice. One of the most important things in time of a media crisis is to get the organisations side of the story out to the people who need to know. Journalists tend to focus one side of the story and in complex cases it can be difficult if not impossible to get all the nuances out there. The organisations credibility will always be questioned when it tries to communicate it is therefor important to have a established platform that was active before the crisis started, it is just not credible to start to communicate only because the organisation does not think it gets enough airtime.
The most successful organisation within social media communication have started their efforts because they thought it was a good way to get in touch with its stakeholders not because it had a need to explain why it is exposed to bad press.
Using Social media means access to top management. Do not put the intern in charge of the organisation social media presence! While it sounds obvious it is often the gut reaction of top management to put the young in charge of the day-to-day business of running the different social platforms that it is active in. Sooner or later there will be issues that needs to reaction of management and then the communication that comes out does not have any or very little relationship with what have been communicated before. One of the major benefits for the organisation is that it can show consistency, coherence in it communication through the effective use of Social media. Within communication theory we talk about that organisation should avoid a gap between managers vision of the where its going, the culture of organisation in terms of employees and the image that it is trying to display towards its stakeholders. If the organisation does not take charge of its own communication these gaps will expand and in time it will challenge its legitimacy and maybe even its ‘licence to operate’.
Remember that the majority of your audience consist of your own employees. The most interested stakeholders in your communication are the people who work for the organisation. When you try to communicate a message to the outside you are at the same time entertaining your internal audience. One can talk of auto-communication, as different codes that is transmitted and understood differently be different audiences. The process that is originally intended for a external audience is transformed by the employees into self-referential and self-confirming images of how they perceive the organisation now and in the future. Where self-referential means the ability of employees and other stakeholders to subscribe or un-subscribe to different images of the organisation in order to create a certain identity.
So when you write on your blog write for your employees they are both your most loyal and most critical audience. If you trust them and them you they will provide you valuable insights into the engine room of the organisation, which you would never know of through normal channels. Make sure that you give them the opportunity to be anonymous at least in the start when you gain trust.
The ability to measure your results could be the most important thing you can do. If you do not measure, compile and analyse your social media all your efforts could be wasted. Remember that it is the strategic use of social media that is interesting not that you has engaged in random activities on the web. Have standardised reporting on traffic, comments, demographics, subjects, etc. and hold regular meetings on how you are going to use the media tactically and how it relates to the strategy that you have put out. Make sure that you organise in a way that ensures that the people internally that have a stake in the social media are also engaged in its strategic development such as Marketing, Sales, HR, Communication departments. Their input will give added value to the intelligence that is taken of the media and how it should be interpreted in a wider context.
So if you want to use social media to communicate around and about the impacts of the organisations decisions and activities on society and the environment make sure that you know and understand how to use the tool to its full capacity.