Corporate responsibility innovators are increasingly looking beyond traditional communications approaches to engage with their stakeholders. Whilst annual voluntary reporting remains an important part of any organisation's sustainability communications, leading organistions are now communicating at the rapid speed of social media.

Social media offers businesses the chance to speak directly to their stakeholders as they go about their daily lives and more importantly, to develop innovative sustainability ideas by listening to those using their products and services. Pioneering agencies such as IDEO, the innovation-based consultancy, are doing this successfully through their own web portals such as the Open IDEO site. The introduction of more open source platforms such as Quora, a Wikipedia-style question and answer site, allows businesses to reach further into their stakeholder's online lives.

Constant sustainability communications are readily available through Smart Phone technology that can reveal detailed, up-to-the-minute product and company information that goes far beyond the scope of traditional CR reporting. Barcoo, one such application designed for smart phone users, provides detailed sustainability information directly to the consumers using a barcode scanner. This week, Asos the online clothing retailer is opening its Facebook store, where consumers can complete purchases without departing from the social network. Analysts are predicting that consumers could soon be making purchases by swiping their smart phones over electronic readers in stores.

Yet according to the Social Media Sustainability Index, of the 240 Dow Jones Sustainability Index companies that use social media; only 120 do so for sustainability. Companies eager to engage in social media purely for marketing purposes miss out on the reputational benefits of communicating their CR initiatives. Recently Nestle CEO Paul Bulcke made a high-profile commitment via a public webinar that the global food giant would adopt a 'no food for fuels' policy. 'Smart App-tivism' is on the increase too, with interest groups and NGOs communicating what they view as poor corporate behaviour faster than businesses can engage.

In conjunction with external outreach, social media can also be a cost-effective communications approach to engage with internal stakeholders such as employees and supply chain partners. Using bespoke in-house portals, or readily-available free social tools such as Yammer, embedding sustainability within a business becomes a far more organic and value-aligned operation.

In 2011, successful corporate responsibility will increasingly require more transparent communications approaches. As the online worlds of the social and consumer lives of people become ever more intertwined, it's inevitable that the communication of sustainability information surrounding business practice, products and services will need to follow a similar route.


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