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Decoding green Twitter: Secrets for online sustainability success

Yes, Twitter is great for marketing. It's also a powerful tool to engage fellow sustainability leaders, which could come with other business perks.

Those of us working in sustainability know one thing for sure: We can’t do this work alone. The mission is too critical and the timeline too short.

Cross-sector, cross-industry and cross-cultural connecting and collaborating have to speed the path for business sustainability, because business may be our only hope to get the job done. And it could be your individual prerogative as a sustainability leader — even more than your corporate affiliation — that helps you best mobilize support and join the march.

Now, are you up to it?

Whatever may keep you from answering that call, Peggy Ward, Bruno Sarda, Marlene Towns and I intend to convince you of Twitter's power for just this purpose at an upcoming GreenBiz Forum 15 panel workshop on using social media to develop thought leadership.

By our logic, nothing may be more persuasive than collective, real-world examples from people you already know and trust about how to intentionally use that social network for real sustainability innovation and impact. It is mission critical to get more of sustainability’s big thinkers into the incredibly rewarding conversations we’ve all experienced.

Of course, we also can relate to the level of skepticism you may be feeling. How does one go from Twitter dabbler to committed user toward unquestionably seeing the value of engagement?

Let's start with two major misconceptions about Twitter use:

- Seeing the platform as a marketing tool rather than an opportunity for individual practice

- Viewing the social media channel as a time waster rather than one with the potential for crowd-scale impact

Now, for sustainability’s sake, let’s take a closer look at Twitter’s real value.

Moving beyond marketing

It is true: Twitter can be a very strong medium for delivering marketing-oriented brand messaging.

However, for thought leadership development purposes, the platform is best used for listening to and learning from others, sharing your own thoughts and making connections that can contribute to the business sustainability movement. Nurturing a supportive learning network in this way creates an environment ripe for next generation thinking and innovating.

Online participation should be considered a powerful way by which individual professionals from varied organizations (private sector, NGO or otherwise) can engage with one another, build trust and develop thought leadership skills together.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? But it’s not just feel-good, either. This differentiation between individual professional and marketing practice actually aligns with the branding experts, as explained in a 2015 Landor Associates trend forecast about how B2B trumps B2C in social media:

“What better way to make connections, discover potential clients, share white papers, and engage with communities, stakeholders, and NGOs than on LinkedIn, Twitter, and other dynamic platforms?" the report stated. "These tools will become increasingly powerful, go-to resources for the future of B2B.”

This strength that accumulates when individual professionals cheer, swap, share and grow in connection with one another is often called "social capital." By building a foundation of support and friendships long in advance of needing anything in a professional sense, peers create a ready and sustainable launching post for your company’s most important benchmark announcements or research.

Through your intentional personal efforts on Twitter, the social capital you build turns into a positive reflection on your brand and may even enhance its B2C marketing efforts as a side effect.

Convening a crowd in no time

While the personal fulfillment that comes with discovering and becoming part of a community is in and of itself amazing (ask any of the panelists I mentioned earlier), the greater business and industry good that can come from those more personal interconnections magnifies that sense of fulfillment tenfold.

This is critical, because the “crowd” is, in fact, so central to the progress and broader impact of sustainability.

New research from MIT Sloan Management Review, The Boston Consulting Group and the U.N. Global Compact directly calls out the dire need for such collaborations:

“Corporate sustainability is moving steadily from the old model — comprised primarily of ad hoc or opportunistic efforts that often produced tense relationships with the public sector — towards strategic and transformational initiatives that engage multiple entities," the report noted. "The goals of these collaborations are many and include corporate benefits, such as influencing standard-setting authorities, garnering access to resources and developing new markets.”

Look no farther than the GreenBiz Twitterati list for evidence that the sustainability field is developing a solid pipeline of active leadership in Twitter conversations.

That means that great examples already exist of how to do it well, along with leads for who might serve as a potential mentor. After all, committing to an individual practice does not mean you go it alone.

The smarter corporate communications teams these days are, as it happens, becoming more involved in supporting the individual Twitter practices of their teams, from executive to front line.

Only by dipping your toe in the Twitter waters can you start to understand how you can grow as an active sustainability thought leader. Once you dive in, it won’t take much time to feel the power of the community as a true “crowd” that will help move your company’s sustainability thinking (and doing) faster and further.

“Sustainability has got to be something that we all care about," said Jason Clay, World Wildlife Fund senior vice president, in the new MIT Sloan report. "We need groups to collaborate that never have. … Everybody’s got to work together. We need to begin to manage this planet as if our life depended on it — because fundamentally, it does.”

For those of us who have made caring about sustainability our life’s work, leveraging the power of authentic Twitter engagement makes so much sense.

If we each make the effort to cheer on others and share what we can, our individual commitment will help grow a larger collective of innovative sustainability thinking. The personal and professional rewards of the community involvement are incredible. The movement scale impact has the potential to be immeasurable.

Learn more at GreenBiz Forum 15, and look for the #TweetLead hashtag to follow the conversation during the conference.

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