Corporate social media responsibility is making business better

Is social media doing more than changing business and consumer relationships and attitudes?

As we all know by now, social media has completely transformed the way consumers think about brands and act on products. And it's common knowledge that all companies — of any size — can benefit from a social presence. But is social media doing more than changing business and consumer relationships and attitudes?

The answer is yes: It's morphing businesses into better, more socially responsible businesses. And it has created the new CSR — what we at SocialProvidence call CSMR (corporate social media responsibility), and brands should heed its imperative.

It's simple: Consumers can follow a company's latest activity down to the second, easily tracking and assessing companies and making informed spending decisions. And news — good or bad — spreads fast. As a common business saying goes, “Satisfied customers tell a few friends. Angry customers tell a few thousand.” In the age of social media, reputations can be damaged in the blink of an eye.

Gone are the days when companies could brush bad business practices under the rug. Transparency reigns in our social world, connecting untold numbers of users through the Internet at any given second.

The result? Everyone knows everything. Now more than ever, companies need to develop a digital persona that is authentic and honest, using a consistent voice that communicates their core values.

And here's where CSMR comes in. Social media has made doing good more important for businesses, but it has also made doing good a little bit easier.

Take Pepsi's Refresh campaign in 2010, when the soda giant invested $20 million in a contest in which customers nominated and voted on local community projects to receive grants of up to $250,000 instead of buying airtime for a commercial during the Super Bowl that year. Through an effective social media campaign and crowdfunding tactics, the maximum of 1,000 community projects vying for $1.3 million in funding was submitted in less than a week.

In this new social age, the pervasive nature of social media makes it increasingly important for companies to adopt guidelines for social engagement.

Ensuring corporate social media responsibility (CSMR)
Since social media has granted unprecedented access to the inner workings, thoughts, and secrets of businesses and individuals, a few basic principles can help ensure that businesses are succeeding at CSMR.

·         Celebrate wins, acknowledge losses. Your audience won't know the good you do unless you publicize it. At the same time, proactively address conflicts head-on to maintain your accountability.

·         Engage honestly. Make sure your followers feel they can believe what you post. A candid response to a fan's or customer's post goes a long way in establishing your social media platform as a credible source.

·         Listen. Be aware of the prominent social conversations of the day. Knowing the day's trends gives your brand the opportunity to engage in conversations that matter most.

·         Know your place. Avoid posting material that is unrelated to your purpose in order to maintain a consistent voice your consumers recognize and respect.

·         Keep it classy. Responsibility in the social space extends to employees. Suggest that they keep their profiles private or censor their content to avoid posts that may compromise company values.

Social media has opened up new opportunities for all businesses; it has never been easier to reach massive audiences the way social platforms now allow. We will see that the most successful businesses will be the ones using their social media in socially responsible ways — abiding by the tenets of CSMR in order to follow better business practices, create more fulfilled employees, and provide service to happier, more satisfied customers.

Michael Cunningham is co-manager of SocialProvidence, a social media consulting startup launched by Havas PR and staffed by Venture for America fellows.

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