Social Media – CSR’s second internet revolution

I’ve been immersed in the world of CSR for about twelve years now, admittedly I didn’t know it was called CSR for the first couple but it’s been one hell of a ride. I can’t even remember when I first heard the term spoken or saw it written but it was me all over, and the rest is as they say, history. 

The study of the past has never been my biggest love. I’ve always been drawn to looking forwards and the constant new challenges, technologies and all things contemporary. Give me an Ikea sourced room over an antique laden insurance nightmare any day! History though can often a great indicator for future behaviour, offering the chance to predict tomorrow with a clarity not present in the moment. 

We are living in rapidly evolving times. Change is now happening almost faster than we can adapt to and only those who can maintain focus within these tumultuous environments will flourish. One moment of clarity for me was last summer after digesting Clay Shirky’s TED presentation (below) on ‘How social media can make history’ – essential viewing for anybody involved in CSR and the social media circus. 

In a much abridged nutshell, CSR has ticked along for thousands of years in one shape or form. From King Hammurabi of Mesopotamia and his code to protect citizens from poor employers to 3700 years later (with many of the same problems) and our present state of business development, regulation and voluntary codes of conduct and our traditional 20th century perspective of capitalism still dominating. Until around the turn of the century the majority of people encountered CSR directly via their employers and only occasionally via newspapers, radio or television if something went seriously wrong somewhere. 

Then the world-wide web landed and our wide world suddenly got smaller, becoming increasingly connected, or for our particular purposes, at least more information about corporate activity was available if you knew where to look. If the information explosion instigated by the internet has been key in CSR’s adolescence then the mass distribution and interpretation of that information via social media, as described by Shirky, has unlocked adulthood. 

In an agenda that is based upon the concept of transparency CSR is maturing before our eyes yet again as our world comes to terms with the saturation of data and those vying for power as filters and interpreters. We no longer need internet detectives to scour for a crumb of detail about a company’s activities. The problem is deciding which Tweet, blog, video, Google Wave or Buzz we are bombarded with to absorb first. 

There are very few stones left to hide behind. If a business is not acting how it should, somebody somewhere will know, then broadcast it, and people like me will be blogging about it before that company’s communications team even hears the first anxious voice – ask Shell about the 170,000 employees who had their details leaked to activist groups only days ago. 

Then again even so-called information filters or social media experts miss obvious or accidental manipulations, for example, The Yes Men imposing as the US Chamber of Commerce or Coca Cola’s CEO apparently interviewed by announcing his self-appointment as ‘Chief Sustainability Officer’ – it’s easy not to notice the sickly sweet tone of  what can easily be mistaken for editorial content when skimming one article out of a hundred.  One key eye didn’t miss it and spotted a non-disclosed commercial connection and alerted the Twitter community. 


Who do you trust to provide you with information? 

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8 thoughts on “Social Media – CSR’s second internet revolution

  1. Florian

    So true, David. I observe another problem: Social media encourages us to scream more and louder. We create a deafening amount of noise which makes it almost impossible to listen. In fact, I have the impression that we are about to lose the ability to listen as we can hardly filter what really matters any more. But that is perhaps normal in times of online adolescence …


  2. C. Yvonne Hickey

    Hi David!

    What an excellent topic of discussion: “Who do you trust to provide you with information?”

    Two simple questions came to mind as a precursor to a few thoughts:

    How do you test for sincerity? How do you test for motive?

    This topic brought me back to my publishing days… from an author’s vantage point one may add – “Who do you trust with your information”…

    “Traditional Publishers” of content have a series of checkpoints to ensure an accurate conveyance of the voice of their authors, who historically and willingly entrust their work, and all it’s wrappings to the intermediary who will deliver the piece to their target audience… from the “spilling” : ) of words through presentation of the actual final piece for consumption. The author “trusts” that the publisher sincerely wishes to “get it right”. Success is built upon bestsellers and referrals. Success is planned. Reputation is built. It all begins with the two parties being introduced to ensure proper “fit.” – then the trust and work begin. It is a very interactive, structured process – full of questions as opposed to statements. The common goal being mass distribution of the content -keeping the integrity of the original message. The motive is out there for the end consumers: buy this book… or better yet… buy this book it will impact you.

    Traditional publishing is a well planned process… with many glances in on the progression of the build, from various perches along the journey. A documented/known process can provide comfort as well as conformity. Latitude defined. Rules in play with consequences.

    As we “Blog” the “traditional checkpoints” are reactions after the fact and act of self publishing.

    In some cases “interactions” on the web… are a series of “reviews”. A quick review of statements, in some cases, of self published content… motives buried… sincerity to be questioned. The building and consumption of content tend to be an “instant” and not part of a “process”.

    I used to look for organizations that sought third party accreditation. Now I check the third party’s accreditation’s accreditation.

    My personal preference is that “trust” be born out of “interaction” rather than “review”. There is an element in that initial exchange that gauges sincerity and provides the opportunity to question motive.

    Interacting takes more effort – reaching out can be rewarding.

    Trust me : )


  3. Lynn Anne Miller

    Hi David,

    I enjoyed your post very much, but as the person who sent out the tweet you posted above, I need to clarify some information that came to my attention after sending the tweet about the “Coca Cola Goes Green” article on

    Shortly after sending the tweet, I was contacted by Carl Lavin, Managing Editor of He asked for more information about my concerns, and pledged to look into the matter.

    The article was written by the president of a sustainability consulting firm which had previously done work for Coca Cola. I learned this when I clicked through the author’s byline to see if there was any connection between the author and Coca Cola, since I felt the article was not objective. The headline read like a press release, and the questions were leading, with no independent analysis of Coke’s assertions or background information on the company’s challenges in the sustainability arena.

    Because of the article’s tone, the fact that Coca Cola was listed as one of the consultant’s clients, and because the firm provides marketing services, I surmised that it was an advertorial.

    In fact, as Mr. Lavin pointed out to me later, the consultant has done no business with Coca Cola since 2001. Mr. Lavin added the information about the prior business relationship to the end of the article.

    I know from my communication with Mr. Lavin that Forbes took this situation very seriously. He did make an adjustment to the article to clarify the relationship. I appreciated his follow-through.

    Personally, I still think the relationship between the author and the subject of the article is too close for comfort. Coca Cola wields so much influence in the business world that I think it is unreasonable to expect a business associate (even one no longer under contract) to write an objective article worthy of publication in a leading business news journal.

    But, given what I know now, I would have rephrased my tweet. I still think it was a puff piece. And it was written by a firm Coca Cola had hired. However, Coca Cola did not hire the firm to write and place the article.

    Thanks, David, for giving me space to clarify.



  4. Jennifer

    Social media has begun to play a role in how companies shape their CSR policies. As companies strive to become more sustainable and socially responsible entities, social media entities are becoming paramount
    By sparking transparent conversations via social media, companies learn what their stakeholders expect of them.
    Social media allows companies to influence and view the behavior of their customers after a product or service is bought
    More and more companies are talking with customers and stakeholders about causes of interest to them, and about how they can work together to have a positive impact on the world.
    Yet most corporations have neither the governance structure nor the systems to handle these conflicting demands.
    The OWP sessions at the IMD will help companies better understand challenges as well as identify some of the organizational systems, strategies and mindsets that can help firms thrive under conflicting stakeholder demands.


    1. davidcoethica Post author

      Hi Jennifer

      I totally agree. Both CSR and social media are similar in the fact they are both relatively immature mainstream business concepts. Businesses are now being tasked with managing an ever complex set of pressures with many without formally trained individuals to help understand and properly manage the risks and opportunities. High quality leadership is more important than ever in this uncertain world. Jeff Swartz at Timberland is one of my favourite CEOs demonstrating the accessibility, honesty, understanding, intelligence to allow his organistion to be innovative across this widening stakeholder audience.




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