With the Sustainable Brands Conference in our backyard in San Diego, we, of course, attended the 4-day event this year, again. Matthew Yeomans from Sustainly spoke about ‘Soft Sustainability’ and how you can use social media as an effective tool to communicate your sustainability efforts. It resonated with me so much that I’d like to share some of his thoughts with our readers.
Soft Sustainability is inspired by the term ‘Soft Power’ by Joseph Nye describing “the US’s ability to influence the world through the marketing power of its global consumer brands and Hollywood’s razzle dazzle rather than the US military’s big stick.” Yeomans believes this language can very well apply to sustainability as well.
As much as we may be tempted to jabber about GHG emissions, transparent supply chains or resource scarcity, brands would fare better telling those stories of innovation, hand-crafted production and wellness.
Social media is a great tool for Soft Sustainability, but you first have to see what social media really is: it’s just a publishing platform and it helps to think like an old fashioned editor and answer these three key questions before you start creating your social media strategy:
- What does your audience care about?
- How can you tailor your messaging to meet their interests?
- How and where do they like to get their information?
Find an angle and cause that connects to your audience and through that angle you can make your sustainability points in a way that connects much better with your audience than using the typical (quite boring actually) sustainability messaging.
Here are some tips for smart Soft Sustainability:
1) Know your audience
Instead of focusing on your self and your brand, consider turning the entire focus on the audience, while still relating it back to your mission. IBM does a great job with People 4 Smarter Cities. IBM pledged to create solutions that help cities all over the world get smarter. In order to make life in those cities better, IBM wants to spark positive change with the “People for Smarter Cities” project and unite city leaders and forward-thinking citizens.
2) Know what you have to say
When you’re as large as Unilever, any effort you make has the potential to make a big overall impact. They are committed to make a healthier living for all. “Project Sunlight aims to galvanize and build momentum behind a movement that is already happening. We know people all over the world want to adopt more sustainable behaviors, but need these to be easy and to fit with the way they live their lives,” said Kees Kruythoff, president of Unilever, North America.
3) Know what you do well
Nike knows their stuff and they are happy to share it: The Making of Making website shows how they do it. They now even have an app where sharing information is the goal: “MAKING is a tool to inspire designers and creators to make better choices in the materials they use. We know that every decision a designer makes in the product creation process has an impact on the environment. But given the range of options that exist, making informed choices can be a challenge. That is why MAKING matters.”
4) Know your strengths and weaknesses
Chipotle’s movie: The Scarecrow generated both positive and negative responses in the media and customers. They may have overreached while not completely ready to back up their promises.
5) Know how to be transparent
McDonalds has had its fair share of backlash when it comes to being (not) transparent about their ingredients. Now, they have embraced transparency in a bold way with an almost scary openness. When their customers ask questions: “Is there pink slime in my hamburger?” on social media, consider bringing in an expert within the supply chain to respond to these questions. This provides an authentic voice and transparency so consumers can trust the brand.
6) Know how to be creative
Coca Cola’s campaign “Where will happiness strike next “ helps teens become more active. Throughout Australia, bikes are dispensing cokes after you have burned 140 calories on it! It’s a creative, lighthearted way to help their fans and consumers gain a better balance of their consumption habits. In fact, Coca Cola is not scared to be open about how their products, like the classic Coke, are actually not healthy for you.
7) Know how to be useful
An Oculus Rift virtual reality sustainability project was created for EDF Energy, who wanted their staff to “learn by doing” instead of sitting through 5 hour lectures. It’s a very creative way to communicate the message.
8) Know how to lead and when to lead the debate
Volkwagen chose a cause very close to their core: texting and driving. Just watch the video and you see what a great example this is of knowing how and when to lead.
As Yeomans explains on the Sustainable Brands blog, “Whether it’s innovation, educational coding for kids or helping save money and lives through healthier lifestyles, it’s clear that many companies have realized that the best way to promote sustainability is to show its effectiveness and usefulness for real people rather than preach about why sustainability matters.”
Sustainability is a fundamental business philosophy that is hinged on authenticity, transparency, creativity and community. Social promises authenticity and transparency so the two combined can generate interesting results.