Twittering to change the world?

25Dec09

Elaine Cohen has written a great guide to Twitter for CSR professionals (or as I put it in the space restricted environment of Twitter, which makes you often makes you seem ruder than you would normally be in real life – it’s a CSR-nerd view).

Introducing more CSR folks to the value of Twitter is great, particularly given the relatively low representation to date of CSR heavyweights, or serious CSR discussion on Twitter (there is a lot of information sharing on CSR, but not so much discussion, compared to other subjects that I follow).

However, I wonder if this nerd-centric view (…you can connect with other CSR professionals, share CSR reports and news…) misses out on the real potential for Twitter (and other social media) to be game changing for the way that businesses interact with stakeholders, and respond to social and environmental issues.

The internet and social media unseat the privileged position of expert information gatekeepers: doctors and journalists, encyclopaedia publishers and film critics, NGOs and advertisers; all must now compete in a much more open public market for ideas, influence and trust. And so too must CSR reporters, analysts and thought leaders.

Social media does, as Elaine tweeted me, give CSR professionals, new, stronger communication platforms with broader reach, but it also changes the cost of mobilising action by individuals, getting and receiving information, sharing opinion and confering trust and making links across organisational boundaries – in other words the stock-in-trade of what CSR folks do. Of course CSR is not about ‘what CSR professionals do’, but about how businesses listen to, understand and respond to their stakeholders, and the social and environmental challenges that concern them.Thinking about twitter and CSR in this light means that it is much more interesting than an always-on ‘virtual CSR conference’ where experts (and wannabes) talk to other experts (and wannabes). It is more like a huge Clapham Omnibus where a million conversations are going on at once.

The revolution will not be tagged #csr.

My guess is that the most interesting conversations on twitter with relevance to corporate responsibility are not tagged #csr, #susty or even #eco but are about the issues that no body thought were issues, and may still turn out not to be (like the fact that HP computer’s facial recognition software appears unable to track black faces). Using Twitter or other social media for CSR communication, is as much about connecting to where the conversations are already happening as it is about micro press-releasing information from CSR reports and programmes.

We are still at the early stages of the societal changes that social media will enable. We are more like early car users thinking of automobiles as ‘horseless carriages’, than being able to imagine the future of suburbs and multi-packs, obesity and packed children’s social lives that they enabled.

I would be interested to hear what examples people think are the best or most interesting to date, in showing the potential for social media to drive real change in the business of social responsibility.



One Response to “Twittering to change the world?”

  1. Maya,
    Thanks for posting your insights in response to my piece on Twitter and CSR. Your thoughts are always sharp and worthy of attention.

    Your reference to Clapham Junction is spot on. Twitter is the place to be aware of the conversations, news, issues that are going on, but not necessarily the location where the real conversations take place. It’s the point where you find the right platform but not get on the train. Our exchange is a perfect example – i blog, you tweet, i tweet back, we realise there is more to say and we go back to our blogs in order to have the conversation. And maybe others will notice the tweets and join in the blog discussion.

    By the way, when i tweeted a few days ago the issue about HP black faces recognition, i tagged it #csr. Jeff Swartz of Timberland recently tweeted “To all who have taught me about sustainability and social change via Twitter: Thank You. I have been listening and learning.”

    So when i say that Twitter is changing CSR, it is because of the way it is presencing and creating access to so many different aspects of and views about corporate behaviour, that relate to CSR practices, which we would otherwise never have a chance of hearing about, and certainly not real-time. Awareness is a precursor to action. Many of the CSR professionals on Twitter are corporate practitioners whose awareness may bring new paradigms into business practice. Twitter’s limitation is what we have experienced – the inability to have a deep conversation. There are many other venues (trains) for that. But I agree with you that we are just at the beginning of the revolution – whatever it is tagged!

    warm regards, and holiday greetings to you and all
    elaine


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