By Julie Urlaub
Remember when the iPad came out? Many people didn’t really know what it was. Some thought it was a replacement for a computer; others thought it was a really big phone. Many people were unclear about what it was used for, and many suspected that it would just be a passing trend. Yet Apple foresaw that iPads would meet a crucial need before most people knew what that need was, and, as a result, launched an entirely new market for electronic tablets.
Today it’s easy for us to see that there was a huge demand for what iPads offer. The iPad’s success, however, did not emerge in a vacuum. It came at a time when the world was becoming increasingly interconnected and technologically advanced, and mankind was ready for a gadget that would revolutionize the mobility of technology and collaboration.
In a similar fashion, when social media came about, it was not understood or credited as a tool that would seriously impact how people communicate. But today, it is transforming the way that businesses and their stakeholders and customers interact, and any organization that doesn’t use social media is missing out on a defining advantage.
Studies show that most large companies are using at least one social media platform. As of 2015, the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth found that 78 percent of Fortune 500 companies maintain active Twitter accounts, and 74 percent have Facebook pages.
Many companies are also finding value in communicating their corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability planning and achievements over social media. As companies integrate CSR and sustainability programs into their business planning and operations, they are constantly looking for ways to meaningfully and dynamically communicate with their stakeholders and customers. Many are finding that social media fills this role.
A 2014 CSR survey by Nielsen showed that 55 percent of global respondents said that they are willing to pay more for products and services from companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact. Therefore, companies that do a good job of communicating their CSR and sustainability efforts are reaching a new market of consumers who genuinely care about business values and responsibility. These businesses are tapping new revenue streams, capturing market share, and building brand loyalty.
At the same time, social media has also changed the way that consumers, suppliers, employees, and community members communicate with brands. Social media campaigns such as #COP21, #BringBackOurGirls, #BlackLivesMatter, #GivingTuesday, and the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge are evidence of the impact that individual voices can make.
Social media is revolutionizing communication because it brings a new level of efficiency to influencing social change. Social media campaigns led by individuals, nonprofits, NGOs, government, or businesses can illuminate social issues, environmental concerns, and positive philanthropic deeds.
The best part is that social media also enables two-way conversations. Consumers can interact with brands in a public setting, and brands can garner trust by communicating about their sustainability and CSR programs. These conversations can then be shared across the social web by any number of the more than 2.1 billion social media users worldwide.
The jump from traditional communication and marketing avenues to social media is uncomfortable for many businesses because social media interactions are much more public and fluid. Similarly, there is a learning curve for many companies as they start using social media as a business tool.
Brands no longer live in a world where they can hide behind a wall of private communication and continue to push inquiries, concerns, or problems aside. The way of the future is for brands to respond to, engage, and build trust with their stakeholder communities, even if it means exposing the good, the bad, and the ugly elements of their activities.
Similarly, brands that recognize the importance of using business as a change agent and purveyor of positive values will thrive in both the social and physical worlds. Social media is empowering a growing number of companies as they take steps to more responsibly care for their employees, communities, and planet. It’s also allowing values- driven consumers to engage with companies for the purpose of creating a better world.