Telling Your Sustainability Story Through Social Media

Last Tuesday Collective Responsibility hosted “Telling your sustainability story through social media” forum to discuss how social media can be used to improve transparency in value chains and to engage employees internally and external stakeholders.

In this session we will look at how firms should use social media as part of their sustainability strategy – both internally and externally – but also how social media has given consumers the ability to engage with companies on sustainability issues, and what the right (and wrong) responses are for companies.

To help drive depth of insights into the challenges and opportunities, we will speak about:

  • How can social media be used to improve transparency in value chains?
  • In what ways can social media be leveraged to engage employees internally?
  • How and why should firms engage in dialogue with the general public?


Collective Responsibility founder Richard opened the event by telling the story of how Nike’s failure in Corporate Social Responsibility affected its business for 3 years in the late 90s.

He also talked about how some not for profit organizations such as Greenpeace effectively used posters to convince large brands, such as Kleenex and Doritos & Pepsico, to stop deforestation by producing their products.  Campaigns that evolved from simply print advertisements meant to educate readers to multi-platform social campaigns meant to “go viral.”

Campaigns whose potential to go viral were aided by the fact that many of these organizations have large followings, who are aligned to the organization’s mission, the messages are focused, and the mediums are visual and often are developed to evoke emotion. An emotion that, the activists hope, will catalyze the spread of the message.

Something many brands have failed to duplicate for many reasons, including a general failure to proactively understand the issues that consumers are concerned with outside of their brand.


While the past may have favored the activist, there is a clear case for how brands can, and should, proactively align themselves to a challenge that is faced and tell a story that will engage their stakeholders.

One example of this was the McDonald’s “Our Food. Your Questions” campaign where the public was able to ask any question they may have about the product, the process, or a wider issue. It was a campaign that came as a result of declining consumer traffic and a general decrease in the brand’s image, and by many measures, it was a success.

Another more recent example though is the Burger King bullying campaign, where in-store customers who were witness to bullying while waiting for their order to be delivered were served a “bullied” Whopper Jr.  Not surprising, while the vast majority of customers complained about the “bullied” Whopper Jr, 95%, only 20% of customers stepped in on the bullying of an individual.  A powerful piece.


The event’s featured speaker was Harriet Gaywood who is the Chief Marketing Officer at BlueDigital – Insight Shanghai, GAVE gave an overview on how the digital world changes in 2016 in China and how active users are in China using various social media platforms.

From her experience, while each of the key platforms in China has their own ecosystem to tap onto the consumer purchase model, in general now is an opportune time for brands to begin leveraging social media to tell stories as the long-term investments and strategic projects are now being made in China.  Projects whose purpose is not for a quick hit, i.e. a day of volunteering with some pictures, but allows for a more mature approach to telling the story and engaging stakeholders.

For example, while live streaming is for awareness building, KOL is for consideration of certain brands/ products. Because of the rapid growth and change in demographics of digital users, it has now become a long-term investment for companies to adopt the strategic approach to convey their message in CSR and/ or sustainability to their targeted consumers.

She demonstrated how to choose the right platform with different social media campaigns, with an emphasis for first knowing where your target audience “lives” and showing that there is still a strong case for using traditional mediums (radio, TV, and print) as well.

For instance, she used the 2017 Michelin Road Safety Campaign to show the success of using various media platforms such as media event, radio show, PR and social media and live streaming to convey a simple and common message to attract attention and be influential among the media and the general public.

On the contrary, she highlighted the Red Rally campaign from Ferrari and explained that it is easy for the campaign to become online news rather than social news if there is no storyboard or strategy involved in the campaign.

The key takeaway of the session is that there is no single rule on how to make the social media campaign successful, and this was particularly true with sustainability based messages as they can too often appear out of place with the audience.

We need to keep refining our communication approach as the data keep changing.

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