As consumers increasingly scrutinize business actions on climate change, they want to see transparent, more credible information on what companies are doing to reduce their environmental impact. Labeling a product or service with "eco-awareness" just doesn't cut it. Trust is a critical factor across all industries, and especially so within the sustainability and CSR world. Surveying more than 31,000 respondents in 26 markets around the world and measuring their trust in institutions, industries and leaders, the recently released Edelman Trust Barometer reveals a shift back to neutral in 2013, after a year of high distrust in 2012.
Specific to green brands, how can sustainable communications garner trust? Social media is one vehicle worth exploring. Shaping brand image and gaining consumer confidence starts within the company’s sphere of influence and control.
There is the first element of establishing social proof. Social media can help build authenticity when messages and actions of an organization’s business practices in the virtual world are, first and foremost, aligned with their messages and actions in the physical world. Corporate communications must compel stakeholders to action with the language that tells them who you are offline and online.
Aiding this is transparency: unexpected authenticity and disclosure of an organization's sustainable business strategies, and results, and all of the good and bad in between. People have to be able to relate your ideas to something they can understand. By revealing interesting details of key metrics, challenges, and innovation, corporate messaging can emotionally appeal to stakeholders in ways that personalize a corporate sustainability plan. Transparency is about presenting honest assessments and reporting of sustainable business practices in ways that are meaningful.
Nothing can be accomplished alone. Creating an active community by default increases stakeholder engagement. There is an emerging role of social media for stakeholder engagement and for businesses to communicate their broader corporate responsibility agendas. With preferences shifting as to how we communicate and exchange information, social media is becoming the transparent, engaging, competitive advantage that business sustainability delivers. Brand loyalty is generated when stakeholders feel that they belong to a community with shared values and interests.
Social media is an opportunity to amass trust in business sustainability programs. Use it to increase eco-awareness of your business’s social ethics, environmental concerns, and philanthropic deeds. Keep stakeholders informed using openness and transparency as keys to establishing trusting relationships. Let customers, suppliers, investors and the public know they are dealing with a company that acts responsibly.
Bottom line: to build consumer confidence, sustainable businesses need to proactively communicate more credible information on what companies are doing to reduce their environmental impact.
Julie Urlaub is the founder and managing partner of Taiga Company, a sustainability social media consulting firm, where she aids clients to powerfully engage in sustainability-related issues and stakeholder communications in the social space. She can be contacted at www.taigacompany.com | @taigacompany | Facebook/TaigaCompany