Social Media and Social Responsibility – Not The Same, Not Related, Not Linked

I suppose it was only a matter of time. My regular blog snorkellers will be familiar with my feelings about the industry that has grown up around social media – comprising social media gurus and evangelist and experts, the most of them snake-oil salespeople, mountebanks and charlatans. In retrospect, it’s not dissimilar to what happened when CSR and sustainability became ‘buzz’ phrases – say 10 years ago.

And now – as evinced by this article from Mashable – the two worlds have collided, bringing a breed of consultant advocating corporate social responsibility through social media strategy. Just sit back and think about that for a moment – revel in the horror of it – the wasted resource, the enormous expense, the inevitable lack of any tangible results.

Anyway, the article in question is by one Ann Charles (founder and CEO of BRANDfog – have a look at the website, if you dare) and is dedicated to ‘5 steps to develop(ing) a CSR culture using social media’. Before it gets to the ‘5 steps’ however, there’s some wonderful introductory prose to wade through. It’s the sort of stuff that I would advocate pinning over the desk of anyone thinking of forging a career in communications. Try this on for size:

“Thanks to a social media culture that reveres transparency and demands accountability, companies today are seen through the critical lens of the Triple Bottom Line: People, planet and profit. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) states that businesses should act as stewards of society, the environment, and the economy. The social media spotlight brings accolades and new business for companies that give back, while brands behaving badly are pilloried in online communities like TwitterTwitter and FacebookFacebook, followed by the mainstream press.”

Lest anyone be under any illusion, I find this to be an ill-considered, badly-put-together hotch-potch of truisms and motherhood statements. (Sorry).

Anyway – to the point – here are the five steps:

  • Commit and lead
  • Listen and learn
  • Innovate
  • Communicate
  • Invest

And, d’you know, I cannot argue with a single one of them. If you are building a sound corporate culture – and if you haven’t got one, you should have, this much is true – then these are definitely the steps you should follow.

I am a firm believer in creating, growing, establishing and living a strong corporate culture – what has been called a ‘corporate religion’ – that everyone who works for, or does business with, the company should be able to see, respect, understand and believe in. It’s a simple fact of corporate reputation management – if people respect you and believe in you (and perhaps even like you) then they will be happier doing business with you. Amazingly enough, a great (and current) example of this is Starbucks – see my earlier post for chapter and verse.

If you get your corporate religion right, then your CSR will happen naturally, in an unforced, synergistic and wholly natural fashion. It will not look deliberate, and therefore suspicious.

But the five steps above are not specific to CSR. And they certainly are not specific to developing a CSR culture using social media. Even the author of the offending article has difficulty shoehorning social media into her narrative and examples. Once again, this is a case of desperately trying to find a use for social media and, in the process, simply demonstrating that social media aren’t really (in a business context) very useful.

And why would you pay a consultant to learn that?

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Filed under Communications Strategy, corporate reputation, Corporate Social Responsibility, Social Media

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