[Editor's note: This article originally appeared at BSR Insight and is reprinted with permission.]
We all know the trends. Millions of people across all age groups use Facebook, Twitter, Weibo and other social media platforms to connect, share, download, digest, cogitate and discuss information about their friends, foes, future partners and -- companies.
At the same time, an increasing number of companies are issuing sustainability reports -- more than 80 percent of the world's top 250 companies at last count.
Surely, social media represents the best way to both get your sustainability message out and interact with diverse stakeholders, versus merely "engaging" with them?
Yes and no.
In reality, there are shades of gray when it comes to sustainability reporting in an era of social media.
Half-truth 1: Build it and they will come.
Building a robust social media platform to communicate your company's sustainability efforts and allow for interaction with various audiences on material issues is a very attractive proposition. And there are plenty of bells and whistles online that you can experiment with. But just because you put information out there doesn't mean you'll attract either the quantity or the quality of stakeholders you want.
It sounds simple, but you'll get the level of engagement you desire only by integrating social media into your broader sustainability communications strategy. Take the time to think through the channels people use to evaluate your company's sustainability performance, and meet them there. If not, you might find yourself with nothing more than a large web design bill.
Half-truth 2: People will see my company as being more committed to transparency.
Having a social media presence for your sustainability communications does not automatically signal that your company is committed to the sometimes messy give-and-take of transparency. The most credible companies tend to be those that include executive faces and voices listening to and responding to tough questions about the company's sustainability challenges, either through video or online "live" discussion forums. This signals senior support for transparency and a commitment to discussion of sustainability issues in the C-suite.
Half-truth 3: B2B companies don't need to worry about social media.
Social media offers more direct channels to market products, services and, occasionally, sustainability performance to customers and consumers. However, diverse groups of stakeholders, including investors, are starting to access information on B2C and B2B companies through their favorite social networks, in addition to their Bloomberg terminals. The recent fake AP posting on Twitter claiming an explosion at the White House had an immediate impact on listed stocks in the United States, showing the very real way news shared in social media affects the real world.