Social media, also known as user-generated content, is an organic marketing channel and an effective conduit for Green messages. This is the first in a series of four articles designed to help Green small business owners and eco-entrepreneurs leverage the power of social media to communicate their Green offerings.
Social media is defined by Wikipedia as "information content created by people using highly accessible and scalable publishing technologies. At its most basic sense, social media is a shift in how people discover, read and share news, information and content. It's a fusion of sociology and technology, transforming monologue (one to many) into dialog (many to many) and is the democratization of information, transforming people from content readers into publishers. Social media has become extremely popular because it allows people to connect in the online world to form [personal and business] relationships."
Social media is about collaboration and information sharing and sustainability is about responsible social and environmental economic development. Despite apparent differences, social media and sustainability are convergent trends that compliment each other.
Even though we are confronted with a global recession, a recent MediaPost report indicates that a majority of consumers remain loyal to Green products. According to "The Conscious Consumer Report" (2009), 67 percent of consumers surveyed agreed with the statement: "Even in tough economic times, it is important to purchase products with social and environmental benefits." Although 66 percent said price is "very important," Fifty-one percent said they were willing to pay more for these products.
The report also indicates that skeptical consumers are actively looking for information that verifies Green claims beyond ads and packaging. The report supports the importance of communicating Green messages through multiple venues, including social media networks. Further, when compared to traditional media like print, social media's digital presence is less harmful to the environment.
According to Rob Reed, a social media and marketing specialist who helps companies to engage stakeholders through the social web, "social media and sustainability present the same set of issues when integrating these new practices into a company’s DNA and core values. The truth is that social media and sustainability can be integrated and adopted at every level."
As Mr Reed explained in an article in 2008, there are many ways that the trends of social media and sustainability intersect as well as align. Together, sustainability and social media are "changing the world for the better."
"Barack Obama has changed political elections forever. Just as Kennedy used televised debates to his advantage in 1960, Obama has used the social web. It’s partly a function of his brand and overwhelming appeal with younger voters, but it’s also a clear sign of the times." As of 2008 several members of Congress were 'tweeting,' including then Vice-Presidential candidate Biden. And President Obama has used a broad range of social media to communicate his vision of a new energy economy that emphasizes renewable energy.
Al Gore is well known for his film "The Inconvenient Truth," he is also co-founder of the socially driven Current.com. This "duality of focus and investment is playing out throughout Silicon Valley and the entire VC community. These are smart bets being made on a smart future that’s both green and social."
By definition, social media has democratized information. "The social web has decentralized the production and distribution of content." Social media puts "control in the hands of people…the people formerly known as the audience"
There are also a diverse range of job opportunities in social media and sustainability that are emerging. Green-collar jobs and new jobs in social media mean new roles and responsibilities in marketing, public relations, and customer service.
"The era of cheap oil has lead to an unsustainable system where it is (was) economically viable to ship goods...all across the globe...With this era coming to an end, the principles of sustainability dictate that we source our food and other goods as close to home as possible...This parallels the decentralization of information that’s been driven by social media and the ability to produce (grow) our own content and to become active participants in media as opposed to passive consumers....The Internet did for communication what cheap oil did for consumer goods. It brought the world seemingly close together."
Social media and sustainability started as grassroots movements. Now sustainability is an increasingly important part of government policy and corporate culture. President Obama's Green vision for America and the sustainable initiatives of companies like Wal-Mart illustrate the convergence of social media and a Green message. For governments and companies alike, social media is an increasingly integral component of their communications efforts.
Social media and sustainability are still relatively new as mainstream trends, and as such, examples of abuse and exploitation abound, but "we look forward to the day when green and social can be taken for granted. When all media is social and all products and energy are green."
Together social media and sustainability have forever changed business, politics, and culture. Social media not only enables people to find one another, it is also a powerful tool enabling business to more effectively target their audience.
Next: The Power of Social Media & the Importance of Market Segmentation / Small Business Guide to Social Media / Shortening Your Sales Cycle With Social Media / Twitter / Social Media and ROI
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