With more than 400 million active users on Facebook, 1.5 million businesses with Pages, and 20 million new people becoming fans of pages each day, it is becoming harder for companies to ignore the social media space. In fact, it is becoming essential for companies to use Facebook and other social media tools to engage with their customers.

For my Strategic CSR course, I am working with a team on a consulting project for an apparel company in which we are developing a social media strategy for their CSR efforts. While the company has many initiatives within the Social Responsibility realm, the problem they are facing is that their employees, the people closest to the company, don’t even know about these initiatives so how can they expect their customers to know about them. The other challenge is that the company does not have significant resources to dedicate to communicating these initiatives. This is where my team and social media come in. Through interviews, research on social media trends, and benchmarking analyses, we are developing a social media strategy to help the company effectively communicate its CSR efforts to both its employees and customers using minimal resources.

A challenge that we have faced is figuring out how to convince our relatively risk averse company that using social media to communicate CSR initiatives has business value. One strategy we have found effective thus far is to show them “scary” examples of where a company’s reputation is damaged practically overnight because of discussions taking place over social media. A recent example of this was an April Fools joke published on Fast Company stating that McDonald’s scrapped its composting program because its food won’t decompose. The “news” spread like wildfire on Twitter where consumers were questioning McDonald’s CSR initiatives (in addition to its food quality). Luckily, McDonald’s had been monitoring the social feeds and responded to the commentary that the story was a joke and then linked followers to their sustainability practices website. However, consumers remained skeptical.

This just goes to show that the conversation over social media is going on whether companies are following or not, so why not be proactive and guide the conversation. This will be a key message to our client to get their buy in for our strategy.

—Heather Stamper

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