Thursday, December 24, 2009

What Twitter does for CSR

 I was recently wasquoted in a post by the brilliant Sherie Winston as saying that Twitter has done as much for corporate responsibility as the great thought leaders through sheer accessibility,”. And in a linkedin conversation about CSR reporting, Cindy Mehallow, who has done wonderful work with PSEG on reporting,  asked me why I think Twitter has done so much for CSR communications. So here's what I think Twitter's contribution to CSR and to CSR communications is all about:

Twitter makes CSR info accessible to more people more of the time. With hundreds of CSR and Sustainability and Green tweeps tweeting their CSR news items or other CSR interest items, the world cannot fail to be more aware of many new aspects of CSR and how it is evolving as we speak blog tweet. Awareness in itself doesn't make all that much of a  difference. But awareness is a precursor to action. Just by making people aware, you change their paradigms, and new paradigms bring new motivations and new activities. I have no data, but I would bet any amount of chunky monkeys that CSR tweets have driven CSR actions to a great degree in these last few years.

Twitter IS CSR conversations. Of course, Facebook, LinkedIn, Justmeans, DevelopmentCrossing and many more networks offer conversation possibilities. But Twitter does it quicker, faster and more directly. Limiting to 140 characters forces you to choose what you want to say very carefully. Just look at some of the dialogues happening on Twitter around COP15, or human rights, or employee engagement. They may not have the richness of a Linkedin thread, but people are getting their points of view across. I believe this is changing the way people are talking and  thinking about CSR.

Twitter brings CSR leaders closer . The wealth of twittering CSR celebs such as Ray Anderson of Interface  (@RayCAnderson) , Jeff Swartz of Timberland ( @Timberland_Jeff) , Jeff Hollender of Seventh Generation ( @JeffHollender) , Kevin Moss of BT ( @KevinIMoss) , Richard Branson of , well, Richard Branson ( @richardbranson) ,  Fadi  Ghandour of Aramex ( @fadig) Dave Stangis of Campbell Soup ( @dstangis) , and CSR thought leaders such as Noreena Hertz ( @NoreenaHertz) , Christine Arena ( @christinearena ) , Rosabeth Kanter ( @RosabethKanter )  Adam Werbach ( @adamwerbach ) , Joel Makower ( @makower) , and CSR organizations such as CERES ( @ceresnews), the GRI ( @GRI_Secretariat), make the possibility of conversing with these leading lights, understanding what's important to them, hearing their insights and following their example. This is what  future CSR leaders aspire to and are inspired by. Equally, I am sure that the CSR-tweeting leaders are thereby exposed to quesions, feedback and reactions that that are uniquely twitterous, i.e. that they would otherwise have no access to. And this helps them build their own thoughts and positions and leadership.  

Twitter stages CSR connections. People are meeting each other, creating partnerships, making deals, doing new things in the CSR space. Connections and actions that would never have been possible on slow networks such as Facebook or Linked in. Twitter is fast and furious, creating fast and furious changes in the way people are working together across country borders.

Twitter is just one big CSR conference. It is probably true to say that someone is tweeting from every single CSR conference or event, wherever it is happening in the world. So what would normally have been a closed meeting for the privilege of the privileged few is now an open newstream of insights from inspiring CSR folks for the accessibility-challenged many. This is helping to create greater interest in the CSR body of knowledge which is evolving as we blog.

Twitter is the absolute best source of CSR news. In addition to all the CSR news sites that tweet away such as @CSRWire, @GreenEconPost   @2Sustain and more, i suspect that there is no news item anywhere on CSR that doesnt get tweeted, that is, noticed by a far greater community. Whether it be a latest video from a CSR conference, or a new social flavor from Ben and Jerry's, or a donation of $375,000 by Unilever to Feeding America, or human rights abuse in someone's supply chain, or a way to make your holiday gift benefit the world ( @iGiveTwice)'s tweeted. Now don't tell me that's not influencing the way Companies  think and talk about CSR . Here are a few i just jinged:

Twitter is now core in CSR comms strategies. HP, Fedex, Microsoft , Intel and many more are tweeting their CSR updates. This is a tool to engage both internal and external audiences (us CSR folks call them stakeholders). Think back to a couple of years ago. What comms routes did companies have to spread their positive news and engage in conversation about it, with just about anyone? 

Twitter is a CSR jobs recruitment platform. At least once a day a CSR job is posted on Twitter. Or should i say once an hour. Because it seems like that.

And, I saved the best for the last:

Twitter announces CSR reports. Every CSR report published is announced by someone somewhere on Twitter (oops, its me, more often than not) (haha)  Often, highlights from the report such as ghg emissions reduction, or community invesment, or a CEO statement are tweeted as well. I think Twitter has become a platform for creating awareness of CSR reporting in a way which has never been achieved through press releases, websites, email, or RSS. 

Note that I havent mentioned the way Twitter is used to promote brands, or the way it is used for customer service, or to announce new products and services. All these link to CSR as well, in one way or another. 

All in all, Twitter is a CSR communications tool , more than anything we have ever had at our disposal  in the past. So now, Cindy, you know what I meant. But I am glad you asked me to spell it out.

Anyway, I'm off now to send a few CSR tweets before my signal-to-noise ratio takes a nose-dive....

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm . Visit our website at:  


Maya Forstater said...

This is a great guide for CSR professionals on how they can use Twitter in their work (or as I put it in the space restricted environment of Twitter itself – it’s a CSR-nerd view).

Introducing more CSR folks to the value of Twitter is great, particularly given the relatively low representation to date of CSR heavyweights, or serious CSR discussion on Twitter. However, I wonder if this nerd-centric view (…you can connect with other CSR professionals, share CSR reports and news…) misses out on the real potential for Twitter (and other social media) to be game changing for the way that businesses interact with stakeholders, and respond to social and environmental issues.

The internet and social media unseat the privileged position of expert information gatekeepers: doctors and journalists, encyclopaedia publishers and film critics, NGOs and advertisers; all must now compete in a much more open public market for ideas, influence and trust. And so too must CSR reporters, analysts and thought leaders.

Social media does, as Elaine tweeted me, give CSR professionals, new, stronger communication platforms with broader reach, but it also changes the cost of mobilising action by individuals, getting and receiving information, sharing opinion and confering trust and making links across organisational boundaries – in other words the stock-in-trade of what CSR folks do.

Of course CSR is not about ‘what CSR professionals do’, but about how businesses listen to, understand and respond to their stakeholders, and the social and environmental challenges that concern them. Thinking about twitter and CSR in this light means that it is much more interesting than an always-on ‘virtual CSR conference’ where experts (and wannabes) talk to other experts (and wannabes).

The revolution will not be tagged #csr. My guess is that the most interesting conversations on twitter with relevance to corporate responsibility are not tagged #csr, #susty or even #eco but are about the issues that no body thought were issues, and may still turn out not to be (like the fact that HP computer’s facial recognition software appears unable to track black faces). Using Twitter or other social media for CSR communication, is as much about connecting to where the conversations are already happening as it is about micro press-releasing information from CSR reports and programmes.

My guess is that we are still near the beginning of the societal changes that social media will enable - like early car users we are closer to thinking about automobiles as 'horseless carriages' than to being able to imagine the knock-on development of drive-thru restaurants, suburbs, multi-packs and children's social lives.

I would be interested to hear what people think are the best or most interesting examples to date of social media enabling real, material change in the business of social responsiblity.

Maya Forstater

elaine said...

Maya, thanks so much for your comments and observations (I will post my reply at your blog post as well!)

Your reference to Clapham Junction is spot on. Twitter is the place to be aware of the conversations, news, issues that are going on, but not necessarily the location where the real conversations take place. Our exchange is a perfect example - i blog, you tweet, i tweet back, we realise there is more to say and we go back to our blogs in order to have the conversation. And maybe others will notice the tweets and join in the blog discussion.

By the way, when i tweeted a few days ago the issue about HP black faces recognition, i tagged it #csr. Jeff Swartz of Timberland recently tweeted "To all who have taught me about sustainability and social change via Twitter: Thank You. I have been listening and learning."

So when i say that Twitter is changing CSR, it is because of the way it is presencing and creating access to so many different aspects of and views about corporate behaviour that we would otherwise never have a chance of hearing about, and certainly not real-time. Awareness is a precursor to action. Many of the CSR professionals on Twitter are corporate practitioners whose awareness may bring new paradigms into business practice. Twitter's limitation is what we have experienced - the inability to have a deep conversation. There are many other platforms for that. But I agree with you that we are just at the beginning of the revolution - whatever it is tagged!

warm regards, and holiday greetings to you and all

Unknown said...

Hi Elaine, Your reply to my question does a great job of describing many of the ways the CSR community uses Twitter to surface and share issues, news, opinions and best practices. In that respect,it contributes greatly to the dialogue and development of the field. Beyond that, I am eager to see how companies use Twitter to inform and engage stakeholders. It seems that many companies are further ahead in using other social media tools to exchange dialogue with stakeholders.

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