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Why Marketers Are Learning to Embrace Sustainability Through Social Media

How Leaders Like GE, PepsiCo, Ford and Allianz Are Making Their Core Business More Sustainable

By Published on .

Matthew Yeomans
Matthew Yeomans

One year ago, we published the inaugural Social Media Sustainability Index, a trawl through 287 major companies in North America and Europe to identify who was using social media tools and thinking to communicate sustainability. At the time we found just 60 companies that were devoting any real time or dedicated resources to that mission.

Fast-forward to the end of 2011 and a new landscape of social media sustainability has emerged. In researching our new report, The SMI-Wizness Social Media Sustainability Index, we identified at least 250 major corporates that are engaged in some form of social media sustainability comms and more than 100 have a blog, YouTube, Facebook or Twitter channel dedicated to talking about sustainability. Those dedicated 100 form the basis of our new Index.

Even as the volume of social media sustainability content has increased the standout leaders of our Index – GE, IBM, Ford, PepsiCo, BBVA and Allianz – are the same as last year. This we believe is a testament to good social media practice in that none of these leaders consider social media sustainability through the prism of a campaign mentality. Indeed the top companies in our Index all have built upon the editorial platforms and community engagement they had established in 2010.

It also demonstrates that companies who are committed to making their business more sustainable - be it through improved energy efficiency, lowering emissions, policing their supply chains, pioneering ethical sourcing and promoting equitable working environments - have a distinct advantage in social media communications. That's because they have a good and believable story to tell and, good storytelling remains the most valuable currency in social media.

Here are some of the ways the smartest companies are using social media, not just to communicate their sustainability stance, but also to involve the public in building a better world:

  • Homage to compelling reportage: Hiring experienced filmmakers, writers and reporters to tell a complicated story well like IBM and Allianz
  • Crowdsourcing: Tapping the public for big innovative ideas like General Electric
  • Crowdfunding: Enabling collaborative fundraising and donations like BBVA and Bendigo and Adelaide Bank
  • Bold alliances: Teaming with established NGOs, charities and conserva- tion watchdogs to support common goals and raise awareness like Levi's
  • Leveraging community: Tasking your massive online following to build a better future through campaigns, contests like PepsiCo
  • Platforms not campaigns: Building an ongoing social media sustain- ability communications vehicle like Danone
  • Making technology accessible and digestible: Creating content that shows how sustainability technology and initiatives matter to the general public like Philips and Sony
  • The wisdom of your crowd: Collaborating with fans to break taboos and challenge the status quo like Kimberly-Clark

The leaders in this year's Social Media Sustainability Index all have a few things in common. They fully embrace their newfound power to publish and provide useful, regular, transparent and creative content for their social media communities.

It just so happens that we think those qualities are exactly what companies need if they are to succeed in social media communications. And so they form the bedrock of how we have ranked and rated the 100 companies that make the Index.

You can download the entire Index at: http://socialmediainfluence.com/SMI-report/

Matthew Yeomans is the cofounder of SMI and lead author of the SMI-Wizness Social Media Sustainability Index. He tweets @mateoy and @socialinfluence.
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