#Sustainability: Five ways social media is driving CSR

With key sustainability credentials often hidden deep within long annual reports, businesses are increasingly embracing the likes of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to communicate directly with their customer base.

Global brands have long purported to place sustainability at the heart of their business plans, but actually getting customers on your side over big sustainability issues has become crucial for business survival and growth.

With customers only ever a click away and able to hold companies to account in public arenas, a social marketing policy has become a must-have for business.

report released earlier this year by consultancy firm Sustainly heralded this as ‘the era of ‘soft sustainability’, highlighting how more and more companies are spreading their sustainability messages on social media and engage with customers on corporate social responsibility (CSR).

edie has taken this a step further; turning the spotlight to big brands’ social media marketing campaigns and pulling together this round-up of five ways social media is driving change in the world of CSR.


1) Social media changes perceptions

Following its 2014 Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube campaigns, Coca-Cola saw a 10% increase in positive brand perception along with a two-thirds reduction in spontaneous negative statements about the brand across social platforms.

Coca-Cola now targets different audiences with specific media releases; scientific videos and infographics to shareholders and the media, but often conveys these announcements through simple minimally branded messages to customers.

One such example is Coca Cola’s PlantBottle video. The video’s sole aim was to get its target audience of young eco-friendly minded customers to see bottles differently. It was one of their most successful videos ever, with a 28% engagement rate and more than half a million views in just five days.

Another cross-media campaign that had a real business impact were the TV commercials by Ikea in 2014. Consisting of a set of three ads, the first in the series – “The wonderful everyday” – put sustainability at the core of Ikea’s brand positioning, highlighting LED lamps and committing to sell only energy-efficient LED light bulbs by 2016.

The campaign was continued through social content and a series of videos on Youtube that told the stories of people who had made positive changes in order to live more sustainably.

The wonderful everyday was considered a marketing success, not only winning campaign of the year in 2014, but also contributing to an 11.3% increase in year-on-year sales to £1.41bn in the UK for the year to 31 August. Ikea saw strong growth in online sales too, recording a 28.8% rise in 2014.


2) It allows for gamification

US restaurant chain Chipotle, which has six venues in London, utilised another form of social media in 2013 when it launched an innovative app-based game focused on seeking out sustainable food, partnered by a Youtube film, ‘The Scarecrow’. The combined campaigns were watched 21 million times.

The game was effective as it told a story that connected with customers on an emotional level about an important issue and was transparent about it. By giving the issue a voice, Chipotle is subliminally seen as being a ‘defender’ of the issue by fans, building brand loyalty. The video is also careful not to promote the restaurant directly – instead, players could earn coupons to spend in store by ‘doing well’ in the game.

While other brands are yet to embrace the platform as whole-heartedly as Chipotle, Kraft signed on to appear in the Trash Tycoon social game to promote its commitment to green causes, and Honda accessed Facebooks 800 million users by placing adverts for its CR-Z hybrid car into the Facebook game Car Town. A digital version of the car was also available to purchase in-game.



3) It bridges the gap between marketing and sustainability

With a report earlier this week revealing that practising sustainability does not translate into business success unless properly marketed, social media is evidentially proving how the two can be a match made in heaven.

While online videos are a very effective tool in a social media marketing campaign, some companies are also effectively engaging customers on more interactive media too. Mars-owned sweets brand M&M’s incorporates sustainability messages from cartoon figures of the sweets on its Facebook page to achieve high levels of customer engagement. One such post recently received more than 5,000 likes.



Mars (which makes M&M’S) has achieved its goal of all ten of its manufacturing facilities as landfill-free. Just because I’m Ms. Brown, doesn’t mean I can’t go green. – Ms. Brown

Posted by M&M’s U.S.A. on Wednesday, February 25, 2015


Mars has also created a series of short Vine videos to convey simple quick sustainable messages.


4) There’s no place to hide…

Earlier this year, consumer group SumOfUs launched an international ad campaign slamming Doritos and parent company PepsiCo for the ‘destruction of the rainforest’ and an ‘unsustainable use of palm oil’.

The campaign featured posters on UK buses and an online video, purposefully scheduled to undermine Dorito’s high-profile ‘Crash the Superbowl’ campaign.

The online video, called A Cheesy Love Story – The Ad Doritos Don’t Want You to See, has so far received over two million views on Youtube. 

In response to the campaign, PepsiCo reaffirmed its commitment to 100% sustainable palm oil in 2015 and to zero-deforestation in its activities and sourcing, claiming “this latest public relations stunt, which is focused on fiction rather than facts, does nothing to foster positive dialogue or affect positive change. We find our policies effective and stand by them.”

A more successful campaign was the July 2014 campaign by Greenpeace lobbying Lego to cut ties with Shell over the company’s plans to drill under the Arctic.

The Lego: Everything is NOT awesome film played a parody of the hugely successful Lego Movie theme tune over pieces from the Lego City Arctic range being slowly swallowed by oil. It was viewed more than 6 million times.

Despite the partnership being 50 years old and 16 million of the Shell branded sets being sold, Lego announced in October that it would honour its current partnership deal started in 2011, but “as things currently stand we will not renew the contract with Shell when the present contract ends”.

Another Greenpeace campaign at the end of last year resulted in Pepsi True being pulled temporarily from sale on Amazon by PepsiCo rather than respond to critics. Environmentalists left thousands of poor reviews on the product questioning the company over its palm oil policy.

Public campaigns such as these – driven by social media – are forcing brands to be more transparent about their sustainability credentials.

5) It sparks global debates

Twitter has opened up the floor to public debates where concerned customers can directly quiz business leaders, holding them account for businesses sustainability performances. One such conversation was held recently with Unilever’s chief sustainability officer Gail Klintworth on Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan’s progress, challenges, what’s necessary to shift global & local consumer mindsets and more.

Telecoms company BT held a Better Future Forum in July last year. The online discussion brought together the world’s leading thinkers to share and develop new strategies to help build a more sustainable future for everyone. Hundreds of experts from around the world explored the significant challenges in influencing consumer behaviour and the increasing opportunities for digital data and technology to help in tackling big societal issues. #Betterfutureforum had a twitter reach of 670,000 in one day.

Hopefully we will see some similar traction on social media before, during and after those crucial climate talks in Paris at the end of the year. #WatchThisSpace…  

Lucinda Dann

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