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.

Sustainability communication in social media - ode agency

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.

Be genuine 

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.

 


Read more:

Here’s the next big thing in marketing

”Traditional PR doesn’t work in social media”

Why content marketing may be your best decision in 2017

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.

Meet copywriter and content manager Anna Sandahl, who explains why most companies still fail in social media.

anna sandahl

Hi Anna! What do you do at Ode?

– I’m the COO and manage the creative work. I founded the agency last year and spend about 50% of my time writing content for websites, newsletters, press releases and social media, and 50% managing projects and sales. A couple of times a month I give seminars, courses and workshops on writing for the web, both for businesses and as external lecturer in digital media at universities.

What’s your background?

– I like exploring new fields, so I got a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Linnaeus University, a good way to learn how to do quick research and turn complex things into something more sexy and interesting. I worked as a news reporter and freelance magazine editor for more or less 10 years, delivering content to publishers like Aller Media and Egmont Publishing. I am TV-trained by SVT (Swedish national television) and radio-trained by SR (Swedish national radio).

I also studied sustainable tourism at Linköping University, language philosophy and Spanish at Lund University and media activism at Södertörn University. I co-produced a documentary about Kilimanjaro in Kenya with Engineers Without Borders and co-founded the publishing house Grönegatan Förlag, websites/magazines Spring and Matkärlek (now part of TheDietDoctor.com). The last five years I’ve been working as a copywriter and content manager.

What do you think is the main challenge for marketers today? 

– To cut through the noise and to actually convert new customers. Companies tend to be present on Facebook, Instagram or communicating through websites and newsletters, but they don’t see any actual results. It’s because it’s not enough to just publish stuff, you need to produce something of high quality that’s useful and therefore will go viral and drive sales.

– I understand that it’s hard to stay up-to-date with social media algorithms and updates, they’re constantly changing – but good content is pretty much timeless and will live on.

And the most common marketing or communication mistake that companies make?

– They may have switched from print to digital channels, but I still see a lot of companies doing traditional advertising and PR, which simply doesn’t work. It’s also quite expensive. New channels require new ways of communicating. You don’t reach your customers anymore – you need to focus on making them find you. This is what needs to be the focus of every post, text, image or video.

What do you do at work, when you think that no one sees you?

– I take pathetic selfies where I try to look professional with my laptop. I always fail.

Where do you find inspiration?

– I’m inspired by businesses that have the courage to make fun of themselves. Parody and satire will be great for marketing campaigns and messages in 2017. Situation-based storytelling like the posts of Humans Of New York, or long blog posts that go viral because they use great formatting and narratives, headlines and tonalities like Wait But Why, inspire me.

Meet copywriter Linnéa Gudmundson, who says today’s marketers should use the 80/20-rule – and never forget that their clients are in fact very much like themselves.

 

Hi Linnéa! What do you do at Ode?

– I’m a copywriter and strategic consultant, and co-founded the agency last year. I help our clients in making strategic decisions about communication and PR, create strategies and plan marketing activities that align with the brand’s message and concept, so that they bring both long-term and short-term results.

– I also develop the tone-of-voice, visual guidelines, slogans, copywriting for websites, ads and other types of advertising and communication platforms.

linnea-gudmundson

What’s your background?

– I have quite a mixed background … I studied journalism for three years at the University of Gothenburg, copywriting at Berghs, screenwriting at Biskops-Arnö and visual communications at Malmö University. I also studied film and video and have produced and directed a documentary that was launched at Gothenburg Film Festival.  

– Since I moved to Malmö in southern Sweden I’ve worked as a communications officer at Nordic Aid and copywriter at South Communication and Dynamic Dog. I did my internship at KAN

What do you think is the main challenge for marketers today? 

– To realize that it’s the soft values that generate the hard ones. We easily forget that our clients are in fact very much like us. We’re all humans with our different problems, who dream of true community, to belong and feel that we have a purpose. 

– I think we need to remind ourselves about that more frequently, when analyzing target groups and shaping strategies, so that the marketing really lasts, reaches the right people and feels genuine. Otherwise, no one remembers it.

And the most common marketing or communication mistake that companies make?

– So far, I’ve never met a company that works according to the 80/20-rule: Let 80 % of your communication be about the things that interest your customers. Then they will automatically listen when you talk about yourself, your services and products the remaining 20 %.

– Actually, most companies do the opposite. Even the ones with a solid plan and strategy that produce great, valuable content that their customers want to share – their marketing is still 80% focused on themselves, which gives the customers or prospects no reason to engage, interact or share anything whatsoever.

What do you do at work, when you think that no one sees you?

– I take off my shoes and listen to Dire Straits! But please don’t tell anyone. 

Where do you find inspiration?

– I’m inspired by brave people who think for themselves and have a sense of humor. I read new bloggers and thought leaders almost every day, but the most recent thing I shared on LinkedIn was a post by Fast Company, who always gives relevant insights from other marketers in an easy way, while looking ahead.

– In general I’m inspired by companies that invest in building their brand through CSR. One example is IKEA, who just built a replica of a Syrian home, bombed and with torn mattresses on the floor, as part of their campaign ”Where life happens” by Åkestam Holst. A win both for the brand and for society, and a campaign in line with their concept. It’s also viral and shareable in all different kinds of channels and social media, and possible to re-use in future campaigns.