THE BLOG
01/22/2013 05:58 pm ET | Updated Mar 24, 2013

5 Tips for Corporate Social (Media) Responsibility Communications

With sustainability reporting season in high gear, more company leaders are thinking about how social media plays into their overall reporting communications strategy.

Social media can be a powerful tool for stakeholder engagement. It can broaden your reach, help source new ideas from the margins, and create a real-time, continuous feedback loop. And it's not just about Twitter and Facebook. From the interactive and online-only SAP Sustainability Report to Coke's LivePostively.com, companies today are using a broad range of social media channels. According to a recent study of Fortune 200 company executives, 72 percent said they have used social media to communicate with consumers about their CSR efforts.

Yet precisely because of the real-time feedback and speed at which online situations can escalate (think Greenpeace's viral campaign against Nestlé), social media can feel like the Wild West of communications, leaving some hesitant to join the fray.

So whether you're using social media now or plan to in the future, consider these five tips:

  • Engage -- don't broadcast. Gone are the days of one-way push communications. It's not enough to send out a tweet, post on your Facebook wall, or create a dedicated website for your CSR efforts. Join the discussion, answer questions, probe further on comments, and remember to thank your supporters.
  • Ask the questions you want answered. While you can't control the conversation in social media, you can use it to surface new ideas or get feedback on specific areas. Be sure to align these questions or online programs with your company's core CSR issues.
  • Listen. Though a part of engaging, it bears repeating. Actively listen to the online conversations to understand what your stakeholders are asking for, identify areas where you can have influence, and anticipate potential hot spots.
  • Respond. Don't let questions and statements -- critical or supportive -- fall into a vacuum. Staff your channels with knowledgeable people who can respond quickly with answers, more information, or simply an acknowledgment of an issue.
  • Be authentic. Social media consumers can smell spin from a mile away. As with all of your CSR communications, your voice in social media should be true to your company's values and aspirations. Own up to your challenges and talk about how you're addressing them. And don't forget to share your successes.

Is your company using social media to communicate about your CSR efforts? What's working? What's not?

This post originally published on the BSR Blog.