Friday, February 3, 2012

GE, IBM and Ford still top performers in sustainability communications using social media

We're pleased to feature a guest blog today from Matthew Yeomans, a leading expert on social media in the area of sustainability and CSR. We asked him to tell us a little more about the Social Media Sustainability Index, an impressive report that he recently authored on the state of social media sustainability communication among major international companies. Read what he has to say, and then download the free report in full over at the SMI website. It's full of practical tips on how to communicate effectively about sustainability using social media - and of course there's a top 100 list to pore over at your leisure.

"One year ago, we published the inaugural Social Media Sustainability Index, a trawl through 287 major companies in North America and Europe to identify who was using social media tools and thinking to communicate sustainability. At the time we found just 60 companies that were devoting any real time or dedicated resources to that mission.

Fast-forward to the end of 2011 and a new landscape of social media sustainability has emerged. In researching our new report, The SMI-Wizness Social Media Sustainability Index, we identified at least 250 major corporates that are engaged in some form of social media sustainability comms and more than 100 have a blog, YouTube, Facebook or Twitter channel dedicated to talking about sustainability. Those dedicated 100 form the basis of our new Index.

Even as the volume of social media sustainability content has increased, the standout leaders of our Index – GE, IBM, Ford, PepsiCo, BBVA and Allianz – are the same as last year. This we believe is a testament to good social media practice in that none of these leaders consider social media sustainability through the prism of a campaign mentality. Indeed the top companies in our Index all have built upon the editorial platforms and community engagement they had established in 2010.

The social media sustainability leaders also demonstrate that companies who are committed to making their business more sustainable – be it through improved energy efficiency, lowering emissions, policing their supply chains, pioneering ethical sourcing and promoting equitable working environments – have a distinct advantage in social media communications. That’s because they have a good and believable story to tell, and good storytelling remains the most valuable currency in social media. Here are some of the ways the smartest companies are using social media, not just to communicate their sustainability stance, but also to involve the public in building a better world:
  • Homage to compelling reportage: Hiring experienced filmmakers, writers and reporters to tell a complicated story well like IBM and Allianz
  • Crowdsourcing: Tapping the public for big innovative ideas like General Electric
  • Crowdfunding: Enabling collaborative fundraising and donations like BBVA and Bendigo and Adelaide Bank
  • Bold alliances: Teaming with established NGOs, charities and conserva- tion watchdogs to support common goals and raise awareness like Levi’s
  • Leveraging community: Tasking your massive online following to build a better future through campaigns, contests like PepsiCo
  • Platforms not campaigns: Building an ongoing social media sustain- ability communications vehicle like Danone
  • Making technology accessible and digestible: Creating content that shows how sustainability technology and initiatives matter to the general public like Philips and Sony
  • The wisdom of your crowd: Collaborating with fans to break taboos and challenge the status quo like Kimberly-Clark
These stand out leaders in this year’s Social Media Sustainability Index all have a few things in common. They fully embrace their newfound power to publish and provide useful, regular, transparent and creative content for their social media communities.

It just so happens that we think those qualities are exactly what companies need if they are to succeed in social media communications. And so they form the bedrock of how we have ranked and rated the 100 companies that make the Index."

You can download the entire Index at:

This post was first published on SMI. Graphic copyright SMI Wiziness

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Down-under, are things upside down?

Last week we talked about executive pay and bonuses. If you read or watch the news today in Australia you will come across an entirely different story though. In a time when bankers have to be told off by governments to stuff their pockets, CEOs get stripped of royal titles for their reckless actions or presidential hopefuls turn out to be ruthless maximizers of personal wealth – this story sounds like a fairytale.

Ken Grenda, the owner of a bus operating and manufacturing company in Melbourne has given all his staff a AUD 15 million bonus (US$ 15.3m), averaging $8,500 per employee with some receiving as much as $30,000! The background of the payout is a sale of the family-owned company which netted Ken some $400m. His rationale:
"A business is only as good as its people, and our people are fantastic. This is to recognise that. We have had people here who are second generation, and one fellow in the same job for 52 years. We have grown from just four bus routes ... in 1945 to operating 1300 buses in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. You only get there if you have good people."

Now that’s exceptional. And good on Ken and his family – sure enough. The facebook page of the event is full of praise, amazement and disbelief. It is indeed a gesture which is rare, if not unprecedented in today’s economic climate.

It makes you think though. Ken’s rationale, above, is perfectly sound. Especially in a service company, the personnel at the customer interface, such as bus drivers, can make all the difference. In a time, when bonuses have become a common instrument for people at the top, there is no good reason to exclude workers from the same thinking.

Recently, The Guardian has published a piece on the intellectual heritage of the current situation of excessive bonuses. It is really hard to understand why Michael Jensen and his colleagues, when suggesting share-price related remunerations for top management, never thought to include the lower ranks.

The real question here though seems to be why those performance related elements have to be just this discretionary, pseudo-feudal benevolence of a rich guy. It’s a great gesture of philanthropy, as some bloggers say, but if employees are really so vital to a company’s performance why not make it a right of the employee? After all, $15m of $400m is not all that much. What would be a fair share? And who should decide about that?

As we have commented earlier in this blog, there is a funny bifurcation in the debate on CSR and industrial relations.  From a CSR perspective we should praise the Grenda family; but from an industrial relations perspective we might ask the question why – if what Ken Grenda says above is true – the employees should not have a right to their share in the growth of the company’s value to begin with?

It all points to the role of worker’s representation and collective bargaining. These used to be the classic tools to make sure that workers participate in a company’s overall prosperity. But Australia and New Zealand have seen the highest declines in trade union membership over the last two decades, between roughly 30 to 50%. In that sense then, Australian industrial relations are pretty similar to the rest of the world and Grenda's example more a one-off than something of a rule. Other solutions might be share ownership of employees, which apart from examples such as John Lewis (department stores, UK), Westjet (airline, Canada) or W.L. Gore (Gore-Tex, US) have remained exceptions.

In as much as gestures such as that of Ken Grenda deserve praise and respect as a single incident – they also raise these more general question of how sustainable this approach is. As critics in the Australian blogosphere point out, is this just the final golden handshake, before the new Brazilian owners of Grenda take over and expose workers to an entirely new game to make their new investment pay off?

Picture by Natinaal Archief, reproduced under the Creative Commons License.