Your sustainability program is firing on all cylinders. You’ve got goals, you’re making progress, and you’re adding value to your business. After publishing your sustainability report, you think you’ll finally get credit for your efforts.
But will you?
According to the Reuters Institute (PDF), in 2018, social media was the leading source of online news stories for people ages 18 to 34, even exceeding internet searches. So, for many in this age group, the only way you can catch their attention is on social media. They will not be visiting your website anytime soon, let alone downloading your perfectly formed sustainability or corporate social responsibility report.
Social media may not seem like a good fit for sustainability messages. Posts are usually short and visually engaging. In contrast, sustainability content is often nuanced, and fun images and videos hard to come by.
So, how can sustainability teams make an impact on social platforms? Context America’s first “Susty Social Media Ranking” set out to answer many questions that are top of mind for our clients and sustainability professionals generally:
“Which platforms are most popular?”
“Do we need a dedicated sustainability handle?”
“How frequently should we post?”
“What’s the best way to engage sustainability influencers?”
“How much engagement can we generate?”
“Which companies are using it most successfully?”
The methodology and success metrics
We observed that most companies in the ranking are using a blend of social media platforms. Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram are all quite frequently used. But we found that Twitter is the most commonly used platform for corporate sustainability teams.
With that in mind, we based the ranking on data related to Twitter postings, specifically during June. This simplified the analysis and enabled direct comparison between the 100 companies we selected for ranking. We plan to publish a second ranking focused on Instagram and Facebook in the spring.
We used a broad definition of sustainability in the analysis — from information about volunteering activities to comments and commitments related to climate change. We defined three success metrics for the evaluation:
The frequency of sustainability-related posts — regular posting is a key factor in building an audience
Number of influencer followers — an indication that posts are credible and relevant
Amount of engagement generated (likes, retweets and replies) — more engagement is the overall objective
Does your team need a dedicated sustainability handle?
We found that sustainability professionals generally use three kinds of Twitter handles to communicate:
- Main corporate handle — 91 companies use this
- Dedicated sustainability handle — 33 companies use this
- Personal handle of sustainability leader — 52 companies use this
Data from all three handles — where available — was included in the ranking.
There are advantages to each type of handle. Posting sustainability content on a main corporate handle demonstrates mainstreaming of sustainability within the company. Usually, the corporate handle also has the most followers, meaning a broad audience will see your sustainability posts.
However, we found that sustainability influencers are more inclined to follow dedicated sustainability handles, and even more so personal sustainability leader handles.
How frequently should your team post?
Posting frequency was highest on dedicated sustainability handles, with an average of 29 posts per month. Corporate handles averaged 19 sustainability posts per month, with sustainability leader handles looking neglected at an average of five posts per month.
That said, the most active leaders are very active.
Mike Barry, director of Plan A and sustainable business at United Kingdom retailer Marks & Spencer, is the most active poster, averaging more than two a day. Chris Wellise, chief sustainability officer at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, is second, and Lynelle Cameron, vice president of sustainability at Autodesk, is third.
How do you earn influencer followers?
While it’s a standard social media goal to build a following, in the sustainability field, the quality of an organization’s followers is perhaps even more important than the total number.
“Influencers” have large followings of their own based on their sustainability posts. They are valuable because of their ability to spread your organization’s messages by re-posting your content.
We scanned the follower lists of our 100 sample companies to identify the influencers following their accounts. We used two independent lists of sustainability social influencers: the GreenBiz Corporate Sustainability Twitterati 2018 and SustMeme CSR & Business Top 500.
We found that influencers prefer to follow personal sustainability leaders over company handles, demonstrating the power of personal relationships over anonymous corporate profiles. The top seven personal sustainability leader handles actually have more influencer followers than their companies’ corporate handles.
How much engagement can your team generate?
Microsoft easily tops the engagement table with a whopping 18,000 sustainability likes, comments and retweets on its corporate Twitter handle.
The top dedicated handle is The Home Depot with nearly 3,000, and the top personal handle is Lisa P. Jackson, vice president of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives for Apple, with nearly 800. See the table below for the top 10 engagement numbers in each category.
Overall best performers
Combining the rankings for frequency, influencer following and engagement, produced our overall Top 10 ranking for performance, headed by Cisco. (See the lead chart in this article.)
Seven of the top 10 are business-to-business companies. Six are from the technology sector. Three business-to-consumer brands also made the Top 10: Johnson & Johnson (third), Nestlé (eighth) and Marks & Spencer (tied for ninth).