5th November 2013

Social Media, Storytelling and Sustainability

By Jess Matthewman on Tuesday November 5, 2013

This month I headed down to the big smoke to discover how social media can be used to improve companies’ telling of their sustainability stories. Huge alliteration issues aside, sustainable story-telling is often very hard for businesses to do effectively.

When it goes wrong, it can be very damaging for the brand image, as well as team confidence – why bother trying to show your sustainable virtues, when it seems such a hassle?

It was these issues that The Guardian’s, ‘Harnessing Social Media for Story Telling in Sustainability’ seminar aimed to tackle.

The panel of industry experts, including Julia Monro (social media manager for Marks & Spencer), Rachel Depree (stakeholder engagement manager at BskyB), Katie Doble-Birch (interim global digital engagement director at Barclaycard) and Vicky Gillies, (marketing manager, Cloud Computing, IBM), took us through their companies’ approaches to sustainability and how social media has helped to realise their respective goals.

The session was very insightful and showed how even larger companies face the same difficulties as smaller companies when it comes to social media. On a positive note though, we also learnt about their successes and advice when it comes to sustainable story-telling – here are the top three tips:

(Note: Rules of the seminar stated we couldn’t repeat stories with named companies, so I’ll leave it to you to guess…)

Create relevant content:

The most basic rule of social media management. It’s not surprising that the panel reiterated that producing timely, informative and/or humorous content is key to any campaign’s success, and that goes for sustainability too. Using adverts to promote one companies’ work with the WWF (the World Wildlife Fund, not the World Wrestling Federation) was highly successful as the content was humorous and related to the TV programme that was showing. As the same time, the use of a relevant hashtag drove audiences to connect with the brand on Twitter.

Speak to your audience:

Constantly broadcasting content is a waste of time for both you and your audience. If you want to use social media to tell your sustainable story, you must open a two-way dialogue and your customers will expect you to respond to their questions and feelings. A good example of this was about the highly famous pig-shaped sweets that are now available in vegetarian varieties – this wouldn’t have happened without the feedback received on social media. Now, this is obviously not a sustainability topic as such, but the principle remains the same: if you are available on social media, you must be prepared to accept feedback and take action.

Don’t Greenwash:

Or ‘Scarecrow wash’, as some are calling it after American company Chipotle’s sustainability advert backfired somewhat. The issue was that rather than showcasing the company’s credible supply chain and approach to farming, it made the rest of the world seem like one fast-food nightmare and left everyone who watched it feeling depressed, rather than impressed. It then emerged the company’s supply chains weren’t as pure as had been made out, which created distrust. The lesson here is to be honest with your audience; sustainability is a journey and there will always be work to do. If you’re open they will reward you with their trust.

It was these issues that The Guardian’s, ‘Harnessing Social Media for Story Telling in Sustainability’ seminar aimed to tackle.

I hope these tips help you to share your sustainable story on social media, let us know how you get on!