Strategic Intent for Green Marketing and Disclosure Using Social Media
In my work with the Michigan Association of Certified Public Accounts (MACPA, www.michcpa.org) I have briefed hundreds of accountants and financial managers on the two purposes of sustainability reporting. The first is a strategic intent to communicate to the public at large – shareholders, customers, and other stakeholders – the good things that the organization is pursuing across a triple bottom-line (3BL) scorecard. The second is a responsive measure based on the need to report on business performance to this same audience. These differences suggest as well the nature of the information to be presented as well as the different social media approaches – called channels – that would best be used to reach the target audience to best accomplish communications objectives in sustainability programs. Fellow contributor of Sustainable Business Forum, Eileen Brown, distinguishes the different purposes for social media versus social business tools, both groups of tools having different strengths and weaknesses based on various channels as a way to share information.
Part 1 appears here
What a company or organization decides to promote is just as if not more important than how a company or organization decides to communicate the message across social media. There are a number of basic to very complex reporting disclosures, each ranging from very formal to informal basis. As an exercise in our MACPA sessions we set out to map these different disclosures and arrived at the model represented in Figure 1. Simple disclosures might involve sharing information – from statements of direction, to activities and accomplishments – across simple social media such as websites, podcasts, and YouTube channels. More complex disclosures, such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, Integrated Reporting with financial statements, or Global Reporting Initiative (G3) filings can be demanding and elaborate, with multiple interactive layers of drill-down click-through metrics, requiring dedicated sites or pages.
Figure 1: What information is communicated in sustainability programs varies based on complexity of disclosure, and formality of statement (MACPA, 2011).
Some organizations in the public sector where citizens frequent more mainstream social media, take advantage of Twitter and Facebook to share and post information. For example, air carrier Jet Blue’s “Jetting to Green” initiative is a simple set of intents and directions in terms of reducing its environmental impact. (While Jet Blue is an American air carrier it flies to several European localities in the Caribbean and as such has European Union mandates it must observe on these air routes.) City of Beaverton Sustainability Manager, Cindy Tatham, leveraged the city’s EPA Green Power award with a local television station to create a well-crafted message for the community to take pride in using video channels. Home furnishings maker IKEA uses the open sourced social business tool Drupal to create its Ecoration site (Figure 2), a joint venture with the World Wildlife Fund, which encourages community development of eco-friendly products and energy reduction in the home. Director Art Holdsworth of Oakland County (Michigan) utilizes a website and Facebook page to promote the OakGreen Challenge, an energy efficiency competition each year for residents and businesses where the winner can receive a cash prize worth up to one year of utility bills. The County often promotes several Earth Day activities also with the OakGreen site for community outreach and engagement.
Where more complex performance metrics are needed, and more formal reporting guidelines and standards must be adhered to, often more proprietary and dedicated websites communicate the messages. Global software maker SAP AG has an elaborate and interactive website, including video messages by its executive team and interactive metrics based on their GRI G3 “A+” rating (Figure 3). One can navigate through the site and drill into specific performance metrics based on their online sustainability report. Coffee maker and food and beverage retailer Starbucks utilizes a materiality-based reporting environment to define their sustainability across a multiple-layer 3BL standard. A differentiator I find with Starbucks is the elegance and simplicity in which they describe what is material – important and impactful – to their company in a way their customers can understand it (Figure 4). Materiality is not a household word, however Starbucks’ use of visual icons makes this site very easy to understand and visually engaging.
Figure 2: IKEA uses a flexible website for Ecoration, which encourages community development of eco-friendly products, a joint-venture with WWF. (Site translated to English using Google translate.)
So there are a number of techniques we can see where communicating public disclosures and information using social media would have a good impact:
- Broaden Community Outreach. To communicate information or share in accomplishments of the business or citizen community, and to gain their interest to participate in sustainability program activities.
- Respond to an Information Request or Event. To communicate what your organization is doing in response to a particular information request – regulatory or inquiry – or to a particular event, in terms of social performance or an environmental milestone.
- To Promote your Brand. Green or social marketing to show what your products and services as well as the specific efforts of your organization, value chain, and/or community is actively involved.
- Investor relations. As part of mandatory or voluntary reporting to demonstrate performance metrics, ratings, or standing against one or more sustainability guidelines.
In the next article in our series we will look at how companies translate the strategic messaging from outward to the public audience now inward to the enterprise in order to motivate, engage and excite employees and executives to execute sustainability program activities. This is a process deeply rooted in organization change management techniques, where messaging channel and content is an important key ingredient to change personal behavior.
Figure 4: Food and beverage retailer Starbucks utilizes a visually appealing icon-based online report environment to convey materiality of their business.
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