03/12/2012 05:31 pm ET Updated May 12, 2012

What Can Sustainability Learn From the Kony Controversy?

Forty-eight hours ago, I was blissfully unaware of Joseph Kony. Today, I'm one of the 74 million people and counting who have just discovered he's a nasty character, that we have to arrest him in 2012, and that the whole world has time to watch a 30 minute video, if it's really really compelling.

Long story short. Social media is an incredibly potent tool for spreading a powerful message, fast. But what did the anti-Kony team do to turn their movement into such a social media tsunami? And how can we harness their experience to accelerate sustainability action?

I chatted on this topic with Josh Henretig, director of Environmental Sustainability at Microsoft. Henretig is in Vancouver next week as part of the GLOBE 2012 Conference, speaking about corporate responsibility in the digital age.

We concurred that social media is just a tactic, a tool. On its own, it can't create an anti-Kony movement, or an effective corporate social media campaign. To work properly, it needs three elements.

Envision Success

The anti-Kony movement had a very clear vision of success: arrest Joseph Kony by the end of 2012.

Henretig believes successful social media efforts in the sustainability space need to begin with a similarly simple vision of the goal.

He highlighted Bill McKibben's movement, which mobilized hundreds of thousands of protesters to defeat a 'slam dunk' approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. had a very black and white goal. Easy to envision. Easy to measure. Easy to communicate.

Henretig said crafting Microsoft's sustainability social media strategy began with asking how the IT giant could look credible espousing CSR. Although the journey is far from over, the simple goal for the first leg was embracing full transparency and disclosure. Starting with that goal enabled Henretig's team to craft a social media strategy that was clear and unwavering.

Raise the Bar

At one point in the much-watched anti-Kony film on Youtube, a list of the world's most heinous villains was rolled out. Not surprisingly, Kony topped the list. According to the narrator, arresting Kony would send a clarion call to world leaders that someone had upped the ante, and raised the bar of action.

Publicly raising the bar is another key learning for successfully using social media to speed corporate sustainability.

As Henretig points out, the "minimum bar of corporate csr is rising as corporations feel the tension of their competitors doing more than they are."

It is often debated whether csr should be communicated, or if it should instead simply be quietly done as a matter of ethical business. Henretig firmly believes that communicating sustainable action is more than good advertising - it's an effective tool for accelerating industry-wide change. Factor in the viral power of social media, and you see how progress can speed up exponentially.

Lever Your Strength

The power of the anti-Kony movement lay in founder Jason Russell's talent as a film maker and storyteller. It was his film that vaulted the movement from fringe to front page.

Henretig believes it is critical for any corporation to take a similar tack: lever your strength to up your game.

Microsoft is a leader in IT. So the company is tapping its powers to create (among other things) more intuitive technology for energy efficiency. Not only is it ideally suited to the task, but in doing so it will address a primary sustainability deficiency in the IT industry - energy waste.

Use Social Media Wisely

My conversation with Henretig had an overarching theme. Social media is a powerful tool, but it needs to be used properly.

If there's a social media lesson sustainability champions can take from the anti-Kony phenomenon, it's that it comes down to simple, very human elements. A clear picture of success, the ability to challenge those around us, and harnessing your strengths are three such elements.

I'm attending the GLOBE 2012 Conference in Vancouver this year. If any of my readers are attending, let me know!