Five things your CSR director should know about social media

Your marketers probably understand by now that the game has changed. If marketing is about telling stories and building an audience of fans for the brand, then it has to move to where the attention is – and that’s social media, delivered via the phone. The best stories develop an emotional connection with people. That’s how you get not just customers but loyal fans.

However, although the issues around corporate social responsibility and sustainability are probably where more than half of the best stories actually live, so far CSR teams have been slow to embrace the change. They focus on communication through producing a report (aimed at accountability) but don’t follow it up with mechanisms to engage those wider audiences (aimed at building connections and developing relationships).

Does that sound like your company? Why not forward this article to your CSR director or your Head of Sustainability?

1. The shift in attention in the last five years is a fantastic opportunity

The world has changed, whether you like it or not. You can moan about how much time people spend looking at their phones, or you can analyse what are the opportunities that arise from the way things have changed. 

In the past, to get a message out to a wider audience involved paid advertising through one of the traditional media, and that would have one single aim. However, now we have a world that thrives on pieces of micro-content. These can gain an audience with minimal amounts of money, depending on how well they engage people and tell a story that people want to share.
Some companies have noticed, and started to engage in issues that people have a strong emotional connection to. But the majority of CSR teams are well behind the curve in analysing and understanding how they can use these channels to make a bigger impact with the work that they’ve already done and investments they’ve already made.

Instagram and Instagram stories, YouTube videos and pre-roll adverts, Facebook video and Facebook live, Snapchat, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn (for B2B), Medium - these are the current state of the internet for most people. Whereas in the past, you would have to try to draw people to visit your corporate website (unlikely), now you can produce compelling content and reach out to wider audiences in ways that simply weren’t available before.

If your company is doing great things in the sustainability / CSR space, and isn’t known for any of those things, or isn’t known for being a company that has values - then you’re missing your best opportunity.

2. Social media is for stories, not for data

What spreads naturally on social media is great content - human level stories that speak to common human values. Your CSR / sustainability report is more about data. If you simply try to make your data more funky and personable, then you’ll miss the mark because there’s no point of engagement for the audience. It’s not that data can never be fascinating, but it needs a human context to reach its widest audience.

If you’ve made a couple of attempts at social media engagement but have had only minimal results (so you might have decided “social media doesn’t work for us”) then you’re probably doing it wrong. If you’re not finding an audience, it’s not the audience’s fault. You need to learn how to engage people better, and prepare to invest in top quality content.

3. Marketers have learned how to take people on a journey from first contact to action - you can too

A lot of digital content is produced to take people on a journey through the marketer’s sales funnel. Blog posts, videos and other forms of micro-content are there to attract initial attention and - importantly - to gain permission to stay in touch. Then subsequent content provides deeper value, and leads the audience through to making micro-commitments - taking an action of some sort - making a minimal payment. Psychologically moving them from a passive consumer to an active participant in some way. And then the stronger propositions lead the contacts to make a fuller commitment - buying into a product or service.

The process is the same - whether you want the audience to buy from you, or to become an active partner on a social issue with you. Want to help your customers to reduce household food waste? Or use your product in the most environmentally sustainable way? Or become an advocate for your brand due to its high standards in the supply chain? You have to attract people and then build a relationship with them over time. That’s as much a planned sequential campaign as any marketing campaign.
You don’t do it by slapping a case study onto YouTube with a bunch of talking heads using corporate jargon. And yet that’s the most common form of CSR-focused video that’s being put out there.

4. It takes time and consistency to build an actively engaged audience

How do some young people with no money behind them suddenly emerge as YouTube influencers - earning six figure sums from their YouTube videos? Or become Instagram famous, getting top brands to pay tens of thousands for them to do a single post promoting their product?

Generally, they do so because they produce personable, quality content and they do so consistently over a period of time. Most of their peers give up after the first six months, because they’re not getting success fast enough. The successful ones keep putting content out and build slowly at first - and then more quickly as they begin to gain traction. They actively engage with their audience, and they’re often not afraid to open up to show their human vulnerable side - at least up to a point. You can get a certain way by projecting a ‘perfect life’ - but you really get emotional connection with your audience when you can show your flaws and own them (something companies find exceedingly hard to do).

If your brand is a big name on the high street - already with a legion of loyal fans because of your product - then you have a short cut up to a point. But the benefits of consistency are still huge. If you see each piece of content as a building block for an ongoing relationship and dialogue, rather than an end game in itself, then you will succeed much better. 

Ben Brown video featuring Heineken zero carbon brewery
Heineken reached a good sized audience via a prominent YouTube influencer

5. There is a world of influencers out there who can be your allies

When Heineken wanted to engage a millennial audience for its carbon neutral beer, it got YouTube influencer Ben Brown - a photographer and daily travel vlogger (video logs - daily videos about your own life) - to visit the brewery. He was in control of his own video. He could say what he wanted. But they showed him genuinely fascinating things about how they ran a zero carbon brewery, and he conveyed that fascination effectively to his audience. He was the narrator. His daily life was the story. But the company became, for one day, the context for that story. It worked extremely well, and showed the benefit of engaging influencers who already have an audience.

There are established influencers - and you would expect to pay them real money to engage - and then there are ‘long tail’ influencers - those that are local, or specialised, or up-and-coming - and those would be much lower priced and some will be happy to do it for free because it’s interesting. Especially if it’s about promoting a cause that the company cares about, and wants to recruit influencers to talk about.

You need to find and choose your influencers carefully - especially if you’re something of a “lightning rod” brand that certain groups love to hate. But engaging with social media influencers is definitely something more companies could be doing to tell their stories and recruit young people to specific causes.

In conclusion

Social media isn’t easy. Nothing worth doing ever is.

It is constantly changing. New channels open up daily. Ways of using channels such as Facebook and Instagram are constantly evolving, with more sophisticated targeting mechanisms available to hit your idea demographic. Here are the takeaways.

  1. If you want to become known for your values and for what you do on sustainability, go where the attention is - and that’s currently social media via mobile devices
  2. Make it about stories that can spread - and for stories to spread it has to be human level and speak to common human values
  3. Think long term - use content and design your own engagement funnel to build relationships over time and turn people from passive consumers to actively engaged participants
  4. Be consistent. Stay active and engaged. If you’re not putting out content regularly, and you’re not interacting with audiences on your issues every day, you’re missing out on your ability to make an impact and learn about what people think.
  5. Engage influencers who have an audience and become part of the context through which they tell their own authentic story to their followers. Choose those that are a great fit, and treat them with respect, and they will give you a reach more quickly you couldn’t achieve alone. The best online marketing is turning all companies into media companies – telling stories and building an audience around the brand. Since some of the best stories live in the CSR domain, why wouldn’t you be a part of that?

Need help with developing a social media strategy for your CSR / sustainability / values work? Want to produce great story-telling content from your existing data, but don’t have the time? Let’s talk.

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