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Social Media and Beyond

The importance of social media in the sustainability communications mix is becoming more and more widely appreciated. These days, if you’re not blogging, tweeting and facebooking, the risk is that your stakeholders will fail to notice all the big, important stuff that you’re doing. And you won’t get the full credit you deserve.

So, love it or loathe it (and there are still plenty in the latter camp), social media is unlikely to go away any time soon.  But is that as far as it goes for the time being? Well, guess what, the world doesn’t stand still.

Just take a look at the SMI-Wizness Social Media Sustainability Index 20121 – the third annual overview and analysis of what 100 leading companies are doing with social media to promote their CSR and sustainability activities.  And it’s not just the usual suspects. New platforms are setting up all the time and some big names – from Bayer to Levi’s – are experimenting with them.  Beyond that, we have games, apps and interactive maps as well.

One recently released game (it doesn’t appear on the Index, by the way, because it’s not from a top 100 company) is not just interesting in its own right but a good example of transmedia narrative or multiplatform storytelling. Starting life as a book written by Nicholas D. Kristof, a New York Times columnist, and Sheryl WuDunn, a former Times journalist, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide morphed into a documentary that was broadcast on PBS in America last year and has now just been launched in its latest guise as Half The Sky Movement: The Game2 on Facebook. Focusing on the wide range of issues facing women in the developing world, the game is not afraid to take on some of the more challenging subjects – from having to choose between a mother’s life and her baby’s to child prostitution.

And apps? Again, this is one that didn’t make it onto the Index but it’s worthy of mention because it’s simple in its conception and yet has the power to drive a significant change for good (although it seems there are teething problems around perceived liability insurance issues). We all know how much food we waste. Not only is that offensive when so many people are malnourished (and not just in sub-Saharan Africa but in London, New York and the list goes on) but food waste on landfill sites is a significant generator of methane – a much more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

So what could be simpler than creating a smartphone app that enables restaurants, caterers and other food service businesses to alert a team of volunteers that a certain amount of a certain type of food is available for collection and donation to local community centres? FlashFood3 is the creation of four students from Arizona State University.

In other words, social media - and its related technological cousins - doesn’t just have to be about communication. It can also be about action facilitated by communication.

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