Effective sustainability communication can deliver great business value. Get it wrong and the results might be minimal – and at worst the reputational damage might be costly. Here are the key strategies for success.
There was a time when nobody wanted to bring up the subject sustainability. When listed holding groups with legal requirements on sustainability reports were so reluctant that they let the enforced work of a few minor companies represent the whole group just to get away.
The advantages of sustainable development seemed few and risks were high. It was either ’too expensive’ or ’threatened to damage the brand’. Companies felt like they had to choose between being sustainable or ’sexy’, which left them afraid to communicate sustainability on a brand level.
That is no longer the case.
Are you sustainable or sexy?
Today sustainability is no longer only of interest to niche stakeholders, but has taken a hold in corporations around the world. Nine out of ten consumers expect companies to do more than profit – to also operate responsibly in environmental and social areas.
A sustainable business and a successful business are one and the same. It’s simply crucial for any brand to instill trust in its customers, and get significant value beyond financial return. Companies should integrate sustainability into all business areas and let it guide the decision-making as part of the business planning process.
And they do.
A majority of executives consider sustainability important, and the majority of companies are integrating sustainability principles into their businesses. They are also increasingly communicating their initiatives. Today it is sexy to be sustainable. Brands make efforts for better products, better conditions and better communities – and they want to show it to the world.
How to get the attention you deserve
But doing something doesn’t mean it’s done well. Companies increasingly highlight their sustainability activity, but do the messages and results reach the audience and get the attention they deserve? Are the initiatives given a real chance to create the biggest possible value for the community and company?
Instead of (only) publishing reports and white papers, or sending out press releases, on impacts and values, companies should use digital platforms and editorial approaches in social media. Digital content creates great opportunities to reach a wide and engaged audience in a compelling manner.
When used in the right way, social media can be an amplifier for the transparent, competitive advantage that business sustainability delivers.
Social media has been a change driver in how sustainability is communicated. But how to do it? How to harness the power of social media to create business sustainability value? Below we discuss what is and isn’t working for brand-level social media communication and explore key components for success.
Be a publisher
First of all, companies should view all social platforms as what they really are – publishing channels. Consider:
- What your audience cares about
- What you’ve got to say that’s in their interest
- Where they want to get their information
- What you do well and how to be useful with it
- How to be transparent
Choose your digital channels wisely
Social media platforms have made companies ’publishers’. Great news for organizations that wish to share their sustainability efforts with consumers and other stakeholders. But your choice of channels must align with your communication strategy.
To develop a strong editorial voice in social media, and to be able to spark a sustainability dialogue among your employees, media, investors, NGOs, and consumers, you need to really handle the channel. Sustainability messages also seek to reach specific audiences. Needless to say then that those messages should be communicated through the audiences’ preferred channels.
Start a two-way conversation
’No man is an island’, wrote John Donne. You’re not the only one here.
Don’t just show off initiatives and results on a brick wall. Online there’s a huge potential audience to influence change. Engage people, make them a part of your journey. People obviously care about the topic, so create a two-way conversation.
Be your audience’s guide and collocutor.
By empowering people with the feeling that their voice matters and makes a difference, you get new input, increase reach and make people engage with your brand.
Focus on the big picture
We live in an over-communicated society where we’ve got seconds before the next wave of messages hits the audience. Be concise and send out clear, simple messages. Don’t be technical or get too much into detail. Instead of facts and figures – show a map of your journey.
To make your communication work and resonate outside the offices, it has to resonate with an audience that’s not used to hearing the technicalities. Show real results, in a simple way.
Down to earth – get off your high horses
Sustainability processes are complex, and it’s your task to demystify this subject and to speak a language that people understand.
Be personal and discuss issues that are closer to home – friends, family, nature, food, health and fitness – issues that affect people’s everyday lives. Social media is ideal for that purpose.
Sustainability work purifies and simplifies the world, which is something we all desire. Show that your initiatives, your improved business and products contribute to that.
Use imaginary motors
How much does the audience really care? Companies should make their sustainability journey something people care about and engage in. We need to be motivated. Use imaginary motors to get people going, to encourage action and participation.
- Engage in your community. People love that.
- Be adventurous and exciting. Focus on the adventure. Talk about traveling, new horizons. What’s cool.
- Happiness is always a driving force.
- Eternity. Sustainability work purifies and simplifies the world, which is something we all desire. Show that your initiatives, your improved business and products contribute to that.
Don’t greenwash. It can and will seriously damage your brand. Don’t do and communicate sustainability work because there is a USP in it for you. Don’t do it because it sounds good, because everybody else is doing it or because it improves your reputation.
Do it because it’s in the interest of your business to have a positive impact and influence on your community. Because you genuinely care about that community, and that wanting to improve your world is integrated into your business strategy. Because it’s easier to operate in prosperous surroundings.
You’re not sexy because you do sustainability work. You’re sexy because you’re sustainable.
Be the story
It’s all about the story. By telling the story of corporate sustainability goals, actions, and performance in a compelling way, companies have the opportunity to engage with stakeholders and audience in more meaningful ways.
But how to be a good storyteller, you ask?
If you are doing a good work, you have a good story to tell.
Do you want us to help you in your strategic planning? We offer this as part of our communication strategy services – read more about them here.