As social media platforms mature, organizations are looking to leverage social and informal communications internally for business programs.  These social business tools, available now as both extensions to proprietary environments and as open source, stand-alone platforms, create new opportunities for executives and program managers to “hone their strategic message” platform and to gain adoption for sustainability efforts inside the organization.

Figure 1: Relative position of Internal Communications and Marketing – sustainability programs should delineate between the two in terms of purpose and focus. (source: Booz & Company as modified by Newport Consulting Group)

With so many emerging platforms to choose from – everything from internally-focused Facebook groups, YouTube, and Google+ “hang outs” to more sophisticated project based platforms such as Microsoft SharePoint and Jive Software – it’s tough to get a handle on where to begin.  With so many new social business platforms emerging every week,  the question becomes: does the platform work for sustainability programs and is one platform better than another?

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Indeed one of the first issues to address is the role of communication inside the organization.  Key to this issue is who is going to own internal communications and who will build this capability, particularly in the area of content creation, for the sustainability program.   This can be tightly integrated with outbound, conventional marketing communications.  Indeed there is a “hand and glove” role between the two – however therein also lies the danger.  “If internal communications starts to sound like it is selling rather than to inform or build consensus, employees may feel as though the sustainability program is ‘green washing’ the company,” explained Newport Consulting Group’s Cindy Jennings, Principal for Sustainability Management services.  “The focus of the sustainability program is to share information and company objectives to build support inside the organization and to select supplier partners.  Leave sales communications for the sales teams.”

Social business tools are emerging to create significant opportunity in the internal communications space.  These tools present the goals and objectives, and relative performance of the organization against stated objectives, as well as information feeds and stories.  Stories can be relating personal experience and commentary (internal websites, topic threads such as SAP StreamWork), community groups and collaborative postings and processes (such as Jive Software), or full enterprise process executions.   Display outputs, including “smart displays” can depict real-time status of the organization’s position against targets, or community-based goals as in the public sector. Image









Figure 2: Display outputs, including “smart displays” can show employees how their organization or local communities are performing against sustainability targets. (Photo courtesy of DownStream)

The importance of getting the employees on-board with sustainability programs should never be under-estimated.  “Our employees are the most important stakeholders in our program since they make our objectives possible,” recounts Lara Hussain, Sustainability Director of Texas Instruments (TI).  Story-telling can be key to the success of internal communications used to promote sustainability programs.  Sustainability teams can provide providing engaging content in blogs, articles or news feeds shared through social business tools.

Figure 3: Many large corporations, such as Texas Instruments, use internal intranet sites to facilitate sustainability information and program communication. TI’s “INFOLINK” uses standard web-based platforms including polls, blogs and wikis related to their sustainability program.


Hussain recalls that at first the TI approach was simply sharing relevant articles on what was happening in the area of sustainability for education and awareness. “We started with a sustainability website internally, with articles that focused on sustainability use both in the company and at home.  Then we added an open discussion thread on how and why sustainability is important.” Soon this led to animated videos, short and simple, produced internally.  “We experiment every year to find new ways to engage and inspire employees and maintain our focus on sustainability,” explains Hussain.

We can see that there are a number of techniques used successfully with internal communications as well a few pitfalls to avoid if social business tools are used in sustainability programs:

  1. Engage the employee base where they are already engaged be it StreamWork, YouTube or Facebook.  Make it fun, make it exciting, make it enterprise-wide.
  2. Selling is a Turn-off.  There are already issues (real and perceived with “green washing” in the marketplace), don’t risk introducing these inside your four walls.
  3. Have a central environment where people can go.  Whether it is a formal enterprise social business platform or a company intranet, make it easy to find, pick something easy to use.
  4. Platforms change, people follow.  Be flexible in your approach to communications around your sustainability program, particularly in social media content delivery and creation. 

In the next article in our series we will look at how companies develop the information needed to capture performance in sustainability programs, and how this is used to feed inbound communications, what we call Stage 3 activities of the information life cycle.

Many thanks to Lara Hussain from Texas Instruments who contributed to this article with her outstanding program example. Cindy Jennings is also a contributor to Sustainable Business Forum, find her posts via her profile here.