Key Findings

After crunching through thousands of posts, tweets and status updates what do we know?

We’ve summarised some of the approaches and techniques that are – and aren’t – working to increase the potential of sustainability content on social media.

Activity: Sheer volume of sustainability content on social does not always equal impact

The most active corporate voices on sustainability issues don’t in fact have an influence that backs this up. The two companies that talk about sustainability more than any other on our ranking are telecoms and media company BT, and retailer Marks & Spencer (M&S). In BT’s case, as well as the Better Future dedicated handle, Niall Dunne and Kevin Moss are prolific tweeters on company activities and events as well as broader sustainability issues. Similarly for M&S, Adam Elman and Mike Barry are vocal spokesmen for the company on Twitter. However, with relatively low reach and engagement scores, BT and M&S place at 28th and 45th respectively.

Why? BT in particular has undoubtedly made significant efforts on its social media presence and how it communicates Net Good over the past couple of years, but as yet their reach and engagement rates have yet to catch up with the volume of content coming from these channels.

Also, they have to some extent placed all of their social eggs in the Twitter basket. The company made little reference to sustainability on any of its other social platforms, so all those who follow the company on these other channels were missing out on Better Future content. M&S rely on Adam Elman and Mike Barry to spread the Plan A message, with the corporate Twitter account focusing on products and customers.

So, both these companies show that constant chatter on sustainability may raise an individual’s profile, particularly amongst the sustainability community, but without considering how other audiences will be reached, their broader social influence is limited.

Engagement: Nestlé break the mould

Our top-ranked brand, Nestlé, is the leader when it comes to engagement. The dedicated Twitter handle for the Creating Shared Value platform balances information on the company’s material issues, industry initiatives alongside updates from events and timely insights, and achieves high interaction in the form of retweets and favourites. What is notable about Nestlé’s success in generating a response is that the approach is not to actively seek replies and interaction, but to highlight the role of partnerships and collaborations.

Read about Nestlé in more detail.

Reach: Some consumer giants play up their natural advantage…

Brands whose sustainability posts have the highest social reach are unsurprisingly the major consumer brands, such as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s. As well as having a significant follower base for each channel, these brands communicate sustainability across Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube. Intel also joins these consumer giants in having a high reach thanks to the company’s use of multiple Twitter channels.

... but Nike, Google and other big names fail to feature strongly.

We’ve also seen how a high reach does not guarantee sustainability influence on social media without the activity to back it up. Other hugely powerful brands such as McDonald’s (rank = 37th), Nike (68th) and Google (66th) rarely communicate their CSR or sustainability initiatives on social media, and so do not feature strongly in our ranking.

Dedicated sustainability channels are easy and effective, but the potential in integrated social communications is powerful

That almost all top companies in SB{influencers}100 have at least one dedicated social media channel which they use to concentrate their sustainability communications is no coincidence. Dedicated social media channels allow organisations to focus their content and engagement efforts within a narrower, more specific social universe of interests. They also give more space for specific issues and initiatives to gain attention, as the potential for them to get buried or have to fight for attention in a busy corporate stream, is avoided.

On the other hand, as business models increasingly integrate non-financial considerations into the decision-making process and broader corporate communications start to reflect this through the uptake of integrated reporting, so too should social media strategies. As yet, few brands are giving equal weight to sustainability issues within their corporate channels on social networks. For the vast majority, conversations around products and services still dominate. However, Unilever and Virgin Group – both leading brands in our index, show that integrated social media communications is possible.

The sustainability twitterati: select few speak for their organisation

With some notable exceptions, relatively few companies highlight their high-profile employees that tweet regularly about sustainability. As well as Niall Dunne and head of Net Good programme, Kevin Moss from BT, prominent individuals that represent their company through their personal accounts include Mike Barry and Adam Elman from M&S, Susanne Stormer from Novo Nordisk, Andy Wales from SAB Miller, and Apple’s CEO Tim Cook. Tim Cook’s own Twitter account in fact, is the only channel through which Apple discusses sustainability issues on social media.

Social collaboration: preaching to the converted?

Reviewing six months’ worth of Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Instagram content has confirmed the popularity of social media as a platform for stakeholder collaboration. We’ve seen that the variety events and approaches vary widely in terms of format, scale and impact. They have ranged from Twitter chats based around a common hashtag, to major forums hosted outside of social networks but with significant overlap. Some of the notable examples include:

  • Nestlé’s in-person Creating Shared Value Forum, co-hosted with the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and streamed online, the Forum achieved 4,621 webcast viewers and almost 6,000 comments on Twitter.
  • HP’s Living Progress Exchange ideation event tied in to the Sustainable Brands conference. Hosted outside of a social media platform, it involved 225 participants, but with just 69 unique tweets on the day from 18 individuals, did not reach as wide an audience on Twitter.
  • Both Kellogg's and Tiffany’s hosted #CSRChat Twitter chats during the time period analysed. Kellogg’s involved 152 unique tweets from 34 individuals, whilst Tiffany’s achieved 187 from 40, including six of the same individuals.

As much as the scale and format of these kind of social conversations and interactions varies, so too will their potential for generating solutions through the exchange of insights and ideas. Likewise, their effectiveness at engaging stakeholders on a company’s sustainability priorities will depend on the thinking and approach taken to find the right audience from the almost limitless and fluid social media universe.

Who to talk to? Stakeholders, opinion formers, consumers and everyone else

A stand-out finding of the analysis of SB{influencers}100 has been just how varied corporates’ and brands’ audience strategies are. We’ve seen the top 10 predominantly focus on sustainability opinion formers, and less on their consumers or a wider audience.

How and where to talk to consumers about corporate sustainability is an evolving debate, and social media channels are central to this. Some brands like Xerox and McDonald’s present an audience strategy that doesn’t clearly distinguish between consumers and stakeholders, whilst others, such as Mondelēz, target communications using Facebook for consumers and Twitter for a broader audience including opinion leaders and stakeholders.

What’s clear from our study is that no one has cracked it yet. Even top-ranked Nestlé does not garner anything like the same levels of interaction and engagement from its consumer-facing channels as it does from its dedicated CSV Twitter handle.

From our analysis, what is missing from almost all of the organisations in our index are social communications that create personal resonance with the individual fan or follower, which then inspires them to implement personal changes in their perceptions and behaviours.

Read our blog for more on audience strategies and talking to consumers about sustainability.