Unilever’s existing influence as a sustainable business leader give the company a boost on Twitter despite an unstructured editorial approach and irregular engagement. Unilever make good use of Facebook as a consumer-facing channel, encouraging engagement through a variety of media and linking to the Project Sunlight campaign.

Social success driven by Unilever’s legacy as sustainable business leader

Ranking third in SB{influencers}100, Unilever demonstrate how sustainable living and the acclaimed Sustainable Living Plan is integrated within the business by communicating it across multiple corporate and consumer-facing social channels. The association of Unilever and sustainability is so widely recognised that virtually every post, tweet and video sparks engagement.

Integrated sustainable living communications contrasts with other leading approaches

Whereas most of the companies in our top 10 have achieved successful social media influence by developing a dedicated social channel for their sustainability strategies, Unilever buck this trend by using the corporate Twitter to share sustainable living content to a mass audience that includes partners and issues specialists together with the broader business community.

Unilever throw the social media rulebook out of the window

Social media best practice will tell you when developing a content strategy to strike a balance between broadcasting your own content, sharing relevant insights and engaging communities in conversations. Unilever’s corporate communications approach for Twitter ignores this in favour of flexibility and responsiveness. For example, on a typical day the channel might retweet a senior colleague, promote a collaboration initiative, share a story from a part of the business or a brand or highlight a quote from CEO Paul Polman.

Treading a fine line between engagement and broadcasting

What this means, is that the stream of chatter can at times feel disjointed and even irregular, with volume of tweets ranging from one or two to 40 in one day. In July 2014, the @unilever account averaged five tweets a day, yet in August this dropped to just one. Unilever also ignore corporate communications convention when it comes to interaction on Twitter as almost half of tweets coming from the channel are retweets and another 13% are mentions – where Unilever are specifically tweeting at another handle and not broadly to its own followers. This means that curated content (plain text tweets) from the corporate channel accounts for just over a third of all tweets sent.

Social sustainability communications reflect leadership approach and ambition

Despite the slightly maverick strategy and approach to Twitter communications, Unilever’s success in building an influence on social media matches their broader approach to sustainable business. Whereas most companies will need to talk about their goals, targets and frequently connect their initiatives back to operations, Unilever, personified by Paul Polman, want to be known for leading the entire business community forward.

Consumers targeted through Facebook with a more customised approach

In contrast to the corporate Twitter handle, Unilever’s Facebook is clearly targeted at a consumer audience and with an emphasis on raising awareness. Project Sunlight, Unilever’s consumer-facing sustainable living platform is frequently leveraged through Facebook using the hashtag #BrightFuture. Whilst not as active as the Twitter channel, through Facebook Unilever promotes partnerships, highlights brand initiatives and shares sustainable living tips using different forms of media such as videos and photos.