With the dawn of social media, consumers are able to directly connect and voice their opinions to brands not in a private conversation, but amongst the hundreds, thousands and possibly millions who are connected through the Social Web. No longer can brands hide behind the wall of private communication and continue to push their stakeholder inquiries, concerns, or problems aside. Brands must react, engage and build trust by interacting with their social communities - this means exposing your brand, the good, the bad and even the ugly.
A recent post, Social Media as Value Creation for Sustainable Businesses, addresses how active engagement and dialog with stakeholders cannot be overlooked when creating shared value. However, how can social media engagement garner trust in an organizations' sustainable business strategies?
Shaping brand image and gaining consumer confidence starts within the company’s sphere of influence and control. There's the first element of establishing social proof. Social media can help build authenticity when messages and actions of an organization’s business practices in the “virtual” world are, first and foremost, aligned with their messages and actions in the “physical” world. Corporate communications must compel your stakeholders to action with the language that tells them who you are offline and online.
Aiding this is transparency. By this we mean, unexpected authenticity and disclosure of the sustainable business strategies an organization is taking, the results, and all of the good and bad in between. People have to be able to relate your ideas to something they can understand. By revealing interesting details of key metrics, challenges and innovation, corporate messaging can emotionally appeal to stakeholders in ways that personalize a corporate sustainability plan. Transparency is really about presenting honest assessments and reporting of sustainable business practices in ways that are meaningful.
Nothing can be accomplished alone. Creating an active community by default increases stakeholder engagement. As we've discussed in a previous post, Key Components of Social Media for Stakeholder Engagement, there is an emerging role of social media for stakeholder engagement and for businesses to communicate their broader corporate responsibility agenda. With preferences shifting as to how we communicate and exchange information, social media is becoming the transparent, engaging, competitive advantage that business sustainability delivers. Brand loyalty is generated when stakeholders feel that they belong to a community with shared values and interests.
Social media is an opportunity to amass trust in business sustainability programs. Use it to increase eco awareness of your business’s social ethics, environmental concerns, and philanthropic deeds. Keep stakeholders informed using openness and transparency as keys to establishing trusting relationships. Let customers, suppliers, investors and the public know they are dealing with a company that acts responsibly.