Social media: keeping companies responsible

Used wisely, social media platforms can be used to drive positive change.

The debacle involving the sharing of the personal data of millions of Facebook users worldwide raised public awareness of online security to unprecedented heights.

Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, confessed he didn’t know who or how many users’ personal information had been funnelled to a company called Cambridge Analytica – 87 million was his best guess.

“For the first decade we were really focused on all the good that connecting people can bring,” said Zuckerberg. “But it’s clear now that we didn’t do enough, we didn’t focus enough on preventing abuse and thinking through how people could use these tools to do harm as well… That was a huge mistake. It was my mistake.”


Corporate responsibility: Do No Evil


Environmental degradation, workplace discrimination – even outright criminality – were all once considered mere byproducts of success and profit. Not anymore. Consumers are better informed than ever, competition is tougher, and the company that demonstrates social awareness is more likely to succeed.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is now a major talking point, and what better way to disseminate the concept than via social media?

So what is CSR? One writer defines it as “a corporation’s initiatives to assess and take responsibility for the company’s effects on environmental and social wellbeing. The term generally applies to efforts that go beyond what may be required by regulators or environmental protection
groups.

“CSR may also be referred to as ‘corporate citizenship’,” the writer continues, “and can involve incurring short-term costs that do not provide an immediate financial benefit to the company, but instead promote positive social and environmental change. Google’s slogan sums up the idea of corporate social responsibility nicely: ‘Don’t be evil’.”

Used positively and proactively, social media can be tools for good – and in this age of instant information, any business that fails to realise their benefits will soon fall behind the competition.

A report by Aberdeen Group says, “Use of social media is one of the leading factors that enabled the rise of the empowered customer. Despite initial struggles in understanding the role of social media in customer experience management (CEM) programmes, companies have quickly grasped its importance. As a result, social customer care program adoption soared from 12 percent in 2010 to 62 percent in 2015.”

Between March and July of 2015 Aberdeen surveyed 183 businesses regarding the key trends and activities influencing their customer care activities. Of the surveyed organisations, 62 percent indicated currently using social media networks to deliver support. The Best-in-Class companies enjoyed more than double the customer retention rate, compared to All Others (92 percent versus 39 percent).


Getting the most from social media


To best demonstrate your commitment to CSR, your social media strategies must be carefully planned, executed and monitored. Lack of such focus was a major factor in what happened to Facebook.

Here are some tips:

1. Know the goals you want to achieve – Before you start, map out the intent of your social media programme. Do you want to keep all your staff informed and engaged, or provide better service and information to your customers? Do you want to seek new markets for your brand or demonstrate good citizenship?

2. Identify your target audience – Here’s where your customer data and business analytics tools can be used effectively. You can use your database to determine market trends, identify potential new customer pipelines, then send messages that reflect your strategy.

3. Be transparent – Honesty is the best policy when explaining to existing and prospective clients just what you can and can’t do.

4. Be proactive – Don’t just use social media to respond to customer problems or complaints; use it to monitor their thoughts and ideas, and post your responses.

5. Be interesting, and involve your staff – A regular flow of fresh content is vital to the success of any social media campaign. If your sales and CRM staff are engaging with them regularly, they’ll know when there’s a good story to tell. Circulate these stories wherever you can, using both social media and news releases.

6. Involve your audience, but don’t bombard them – If you’re providing your audience with regular insights into their areas of interest, you’re inviting them into a rewarding dialogue. Keep it brief, and relevant.

7. Keep your message consistent – It helps if you list your goals prominently and stick to them; this cements your desired image of reliability and trustworthiness.

8. Measure your performance – There are plenty of online analytical tools available to determine just how your various social media platforms are performing. Reposts and retweets are the lifeblood of a successful social media strategy. Is your audience opening you up to other audiences? That’s how you measure success.

9. Don’t take shortcuts – Easy-to-load apps and a casual attitude to data sharing caused the Facebook meltdown. Yes, make it easy for your audience to access and share information, but be vigilant – especially if you suspect that unauthorised users might be trying to get to your customer data.


Trends to watch for


An article in Forbes magazine identified the following likely developments in corporate social responsibility:

  • The decline of workplace harassment and inequality
  • Greater diversity – not just in gender, but in culture, language, age, sexual orientation, disability, background and experience
  • Greater corporate activism on political, environmental and social issues
  • A greater emphasis on sustainability, using technology and enlightened policies to deliver greater benefits to the community at large

The European Commission has taken decisive steps in the field of CSR, implementing policy guidelines that encourage corporate responsibility, backed by regulations on non-financial reporting.

Those regulations can be read here.


Being a good corporate citizen


The Facebook incident may have the benefit of raising awareness for greater corporate social responsibility. Sheldon Pacotti, a senior solution architect at global design and strategy firm frog, believes all the public attention will force better behaviour, weed out the cowboys, and deliver solutions to the problems.

“The prevailing critique of social media as distracting, false and banal will force the medium to deliver on its true potential,” he said.

Ultimately, it all comes down to Doing The Right Thing: recognising people’s right to privacy, not treating their personal data as a mere saleable commodity, and accepting that as a business, your actions can rebound on the wider community.

Used properly, social media can support progress and prosperity. Let’s all demonstrate our commitment to these goals by using these powerful tools as a force for good.