It would seem that there should be a natural match between social media like Facebook, Twitter, Digg, etc. and the voluntary engagement with stakeholders that is subscribed by most CSR professionals and academics. However, there might be a natural match but between the two in theory it seems that there is a long way to go when it comes to practice.
In my mind there are several things that goes wrong for social media practitioners when it comes to CSR communication.
First, practitioners fall in two categories. One is what I call old school communication people who looks at Social media as a channel that brings new possibilities to get the message through. They properly have a good understanding of the ins and outs of the CSR practiced in the organisation but they are limited by a marketing mind-set. The second category relative young people who understands the media and have been brought up with social media as a natural way to stay in touch with friends and family. However, they might not understand the organisations CSR in depth, its nuances and the challenges that come with having a much broader stakeholder outlook.
Second, social media driven by the users are a myth. Until this date I have not heard of a social media effort from a private or public organisations have a significant proportion of its contents provided by the organisation itself. Think about it, even though you are a member of a really great and interesting organisation would you spend all your time there? Properly not. But amazingly a lot of companies think that if they set up a social media platform and feed it with commercial, lobbyism briefs and sneak previews of their products people will happily engage and provide contents for their sites.
In reality most “successful” social media campaigns have been planned, driven and controlled by the organisations that benefited from the exposure, and users have been invited to participate only to support the already constructed message. There is no negotiation or co-construction of contents. There is no possibility to let the better argument win or possibility to provide alternative messages. The organisation or a professional communication bureau controls everything in the effort from A to Z and users are only puppets that can be played from a string.
When it comes to CSR communication this provides a real dilemma as transparency and engagement is central to our understanding of a truly socially responsible company. So what “normally” happens is that in order not to be perceived as manipulative organisations leave it the users to provide information and debate, which in the end make the whole social media effort a failure because people just don’t provide contents by themselves. Basically organisations are planning to fail in their social media CSR communication.
Third myth is that Social media is cheap. Who is your social media resource? If you are lucky you have half a person who is in charge of all the platforms available a daunting task of he or she is to provide a large proportion of the contents for the sites. However, organisations think that the majority of work is going to be done by the users and therefor do not provide any resources. Just like having a newspaper and only employing the editor, so to speak. If you want to do something serious about your online stakeholder engagement you need to allocate the resources needed in order to make it work. I have heard many business people who complain that that their social media activities are a failure, but when I ask what kind of resources has put into it, it is no surprise that they are not able to harvest the benefits. “Crap in Crap out” seem to be the prevailing model as with everything else in life.
- CSR Reporting 2.0: From Stats To Stories (sustainablebrands.com)
- Twitter is the most popular Sustainability / CSR Social Media channel (fabianpattberg.com)