May 21st, 2010

Sustainability and Social Media – A Match Made in Marketing Heaven


With the constant fluctuation of energy and natural resource prices, more and more companies are evaluating and embracing sustainability not only to cut and stabilize energy costs, but also to drive innovation and ensure competitive advantage. “Becoming environment-friendly can lower your costs and increase your revenues. That’s why sustainability should be a touchstone for all innovation” states a 2009 Harvard Business Review article. Walmart’s new Supplier Sustainability Assessment is the strongest indicator yet that sustainability is quickly becoming a valuable business tool. A well executed sustainability program can reduce employee turn-over and enable for a methodical and process driven approach to evaluating resource use, a prevailing theme at this year’s CRO Summit.

The social media tie-in? A recent Burson-Marsteller study found that “79 percent of the largest 100 companies in the Fortune Global 500 index are using at least one of the most popular social media platforms: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or corporate blogs”. Clearly, if Fortune 500 companies see value in engaging in sustainability efforts and are communicating about them via social media channels, it is a sure sign that a critical mass has been reached. Just like that lonely tree in the forest, if you’ve got a breakthrough idea and no one knows about it, it may as well be useless. Green and clean-tech companies should be especially in-tune to digital media as it not only allows them to look for prospects, but also funding, partnerships, and visibility. Social media (in conjunction with an integrated web strategy) can provide significant leverage to that effort. Engaging stakeholders about sustainability efforts in a meaningful way helps to build credibility and the sales pipeline. According to McKinsey & Company “Digital channels can unify that experience and prevent the leakage of opportunity. Across a range of B2C and B2B clients, we’ve seen companies accelerate revenue growth by tightening the coordination of the end-to-end experience.” With the potential of a 10-20% revenue increase, social media can make a powerful impact. This free (aside from staff time) low-hanging fruit can also do wonders for overall SEO (Search Engine Optimization) efforts as well.

In Boston (referred to by some as the Silicon Valley of the East) companies like enerNOC, Harvest Power and GreenTech Media these companies speak sustainability and communicate their learnings through social media. As innovators, these companies naturally appeal to progressive, early adopters who are tech-savvy entrepreneurs. Harvest Power provides a good example of a well executed social media campaign because they take the time to share and engage with their online-constituents via Twitter @HarvestPower and their blog. Harvest understands that like any other communication vehicle, Twitter is just another platform where the conversation happens to be just 140 characters in length. Companies who fail to keep up with social media are allowing technology to pass them becoming obsolete and irrelevant. This is a huge mistake as they are passing up an effective, measurable tool that helps with lead acquisition, nurturing, visibility and branding.

While advising clients on how they can start building a social network I always recommend starting with goal setting and developing a solid communications strategy that incorporates various on-line and off-line channels. Starting small and testing the waters is often the best approach. With so many great (and free) ancillary tools available to connect, grade, and analyze, users can quickly fine-tune and optimize online campaigns. At the end of the day communicating about sustainability needs to be succinct and engaging, according to the CSR Reporting blog. Those afraid to harness these new communication tools do so at the risk of alienating their companies from the now mainstream web 2.0 digital world we live in.

Does your company use social media to communicate sustainability initiatives? What were the results and what did you learn?

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Joanna Hamblin

About Joanna Hamblin

A results driven marketing and communications professional, Joanna has over 7 years of experience in developing marketing strategies that generate leads, raise awareness and grow market share. Working with clients of various sizes and stages she’s helping to build strong foundations for the clean tech, energy, sustainability and local food verticals by developing marketing strategies that are effective, scalable and provide consistent ROI. Her specialty includes project management, web 2.0 and social media planning, event management and corporate communications. To learn more about Joanna and her work you can follow her on Twitter @GoodNatureGirl .