Microsoft cast the net wide in terms of which audiences they try to engage on social, and so scores highly through sheer volume of followers, despite not using a typical social media model of a corporate voice that cascades to other levels. Microsoft has achieved influence through citizenship communications that is tailored to their flagship initiative.

Sustainability Influence: Not always about your strategy or issues.

Microsoft achieve 10th out of the 100 brands in our SB{influencers}100 despite not using what we in the sustainability communications industry would consider a finely tuned approach to social media. The Microsoft Citizenship Twitter handle is the primary channel for Microsoft to talk about its corporate citizenship approach and how it is 'Working to deliver positive change to communities throughout the world'. The account is very active, with more than 700 tweets through the six-month period that we analysed.

How dialogue and interaction on flagship initiatives contributes to follower growth

Content is dominated by their Youth Spark initiative, explained on the corporate website as ‘Our commitment to empower 300 million young people with opportunities for education, employment, and entrepreneurship.’ The tweets related to this initiative are all oriented towards a youth audience and Microsoft actively engage in conversations with participants in a lively, informal tone. Often the channel initiates dialogue with their followers, retweeting or quoting others and updates from participating events.

This approach has clearly been effective in generating an impressive follower base of more than 46,000 – one of the largest of all the dedicated CSR/sustainability Twitter handles we’ve looked at.

Missing material issues – does it matter?

Where Microsoft depart from the textbook of social media use for sustainability communications, is maintaining a balance of content between flagship initiatives like Youth Spark and other material issues that affect its business. Microsoft occasionally tweet about their Citizenship commitments, for example on human rights, but without reference to these as major pillars of a broader strategy. The channel also directs these tweets at a wide follower base beyond just stakeholders interested in corporate responsibility.

With a greater balance of Youth Spark content and material issues – for example on more of their Principled Business Practices environmental sustainability and responsible sourcing – Microsoft could demonstrate connectedness to business issues and grow its follower base amongst stakeholders interested in the business’s non-financial issues and reporting. In the meantime, Microsoft show that by casting their net wide to the kind of audience they want to reach on social media, they grow in influence by sheer volume of people listening.