How To Use Social Media to Communicate Your Sustainability Wins

How To Use Social Media to Communicate Your Sustainability Wins

Fewer than 10 years ago, companies were able to establish their prominence among "green" businesses relatively easily. As awareness and consumer demand for higher dedication to environmental issues has grown, a Google search of "eco-friendly" businesses results in a deluge of claims with dubious credibility.

To rise above the crowd of companies jumping on the green bandwagon, businesses with true dedication to green innovation and sustainable operations must actively contribute to the conversation – both in the media and online. To assist marketers in identifying opportunities to raise the profile of their green brand, here are five tips that will enable companies to expand their social presence.

Bring Your Passion and Your Viewpoint

There are several commonalities between sustainability efforts and social media that make online networks the perfect vehicle for communicating a company's brand. Both are truly coming of age at the right time, and there is a passion, authenticity and commitment required to do work in both spheres successfully. And while there are millions of people active in social media, you're not trying to reach them all or compete with them all for attention.

When it comes putting yourself and your brand out in the relatively wild waters of social media, it is important to articulate a clear goal and strategy. To be a thought leader and to attract followers and advocates of your own, offer a distinct point of view and talk about issues and the marketplace -- not about your company and products. The first step is to identify and find the right people to connect with.

Identify Influencers

Determining your audience and finding the influencers in your marketplace, and hence learning where you need to be spending your time online, is not difficult, but requires some initial research.

Identify the people currently leading the conversation in your industry or focus (solar, water reuse, supply chain, etc.). Understanding who is driving public discourse can be revealing – do your competitors blog, tweet, and post about your market regularly? Or is the conversation being driven by a handful of independent bloggers?

For many eco-focused industries, academia might be driving the discussion. This should lead you to the media and influencers that you need to follow and engage with.

Start by searching for keywords and reviewing the results for original content, surveys or reports, and conversations in forums. As you dive deeper into the content, look at who has contributed in forums or in industry blogs.

Look for individuals who are a part of an active conversation and see if their comments are driving further discussions. Look at Twitter and search hashtags and lists to filter and find top green blogs, green CEOs, sustainability media, etc.

Check out the multitude of groups on LinkedIn. Regardless of your focus -- renewable energy, clean tech, sustainability, energy and utilities network, CSR, solar, etc. -- there is likely already a group to join. If not, you may have just discovered a gap you can fill.

Create a Social Presence

Before jumping into the conversation, determine exactly which channels and tools will work best for you and who in your organization or company is best suited to participate as a spokesperson.

Don't just think the big three: Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Consider branded and media networks that offer the chance to connect and collaborate with your peers and your target community. Is your audience already part of a green network or working group such as the GreenBiz Executive Network or Sustainable Silicon Valley's EcoCloud network?

Choose executives or department heads already comfortable with social media and who have a passion for their subject. Or if you choose to have a branded account (which includes your company name, not an individual's), be sure to designate who would be engaging in this conversation.

Adding a profile photo and company logo make it clear to other users who they're interacting with. Note that social networkers that act as "people" instead of "companies" are likely to draw more interaction.

Take the time to create accounts on the networks and forums where you've seen your influencers interact.

Contribute and Connect

Once you have a short list of thought leaders identified, determine what makes them influential. What type of material are they posting -- original observations, digests of other peoples' content, controversial statements or something else? Are they well known as a result of their connection to a specific company or non-profit?

Here are some ways you can jump into the conversation:

• Track the thought leaders you've identified via RSS (if they post to a blog) and join the forum they contribute to, follow on Twitter, etc.
• Find conversations that present an opportunity for you to actively participate. Show your value by adding helpful statistics, links and other resources. Respond with thought-provoking questions and give your opinion. If you're using Twitter, retweet interesting comments to your followers.

Look for opportunities such as "tweetups" from top 10 blogs such as Triple Pundit. Identify LinkedIn groups where your audience participates and where you can offer a unique point of view. Engage in the conversations and start your own discussion threads. Regardless of whether your focus is clean tech, renewable energy, solar, sustainability, CSR or a number of other shades of green, there is likely already a community that exists that you can join and become active in.

The key thing to note, don't jump in all at once. It will take time for you to get a feel for what makes conversations and debates compelling. The key is to engage others, share quality content and respond to what others post in a timely manner.

Build an Active Community

Whether you're interacting on Twitter, Facebook or another network such as LinkedIn, many companies set goals for attracting more friends or followers. In the world of social engagement, think quality over quantity. Thousands of followers or friends won't meaningfully enhance your brand if they're not part of your target audience.

Draw in those quality followers with content that displays personality, good timing and a variety of content. Focus on showing value to those you wish to engage with by being personable, and interactive, responding in real time when possible. If your content is solely focused on company news or marketing "pushes" (where you're simply sending information out into the ether) and never "pull" (responding to others' content), your audience won't see an opportunity to interact with you.

With important posts, note that timing is everything. Maintain visibility online by posting content often and during peak hours of the day. For example with Twitter, it's okay to post important news or question a few times over a day or two to catch the eye of your followers who may not see it the first time. If you find that some of your followers are outside the U.S., this tactic keeps the conversation going despite time zones.

Track Your Progress

To fully appreciate the progress your business is making, take stock of where you are before you start engaging and after you've been at it for three to six months. Have you identified a new business lead or jumpstarted a partnership based on an online conversation? Increased your number of followers or secured retweets?

Keeping track of these metrics at least on a monthly basis and noting what's working well and what does not will ensure the success of this program. Remember this is about relationships. They take time to develop and nurture.