A Reputation Institute 2011 survey found that a company’s CSR programme (in its broadest sense), can be responsible for more than 40% of a company’s reputation, whilst companies with stronger social leadership programs have 55% better internal morale and 43% more efficient business processes. T

his is added to the fact that highly engaged employees have three times the operating margin.

So when I say this, I may be going out on a limb, but very few brands seem to be effectively using social media to communicate their social responsibility initiatives.

In many cases I would expect that this is due to a mismatch of goals between marketing (the people who have the social media budget) and CSR (the people focused on delivering in-the-field). 

But, the stats don’t lie.  Facebook now boasts in excess of 800m users worldwide, Twitter has more than 200m users, LinkedIn has 64m (and growing), and 23% of all time spent online is on social networks etc… etc….

This has to represent one of the biggest (relatively) untapped opportunities in the history of CSR. Three factors; huge audiences congregating around shared interests, the rise of online activism and the ability for brands to find, engage with and enrich these groups mean that instead of having to “go it alone” brands can become the enablers of social change. A sea-change in the way CSR gets done. 

It’s not as if brands have nothing to talk about either. Examples such as the work large brands like Nike, Dell, Apple, AmEx and GAP have done with (RED) to create specially branded retail offerings would provide the perfect stimulus for engagement.

They’ve raised more than $180m to date for AIDS research and treatment, with 100% of profits going towards in-the-field work. This is fantastic but how much more could be achieved if RED products engaged their consumers to make even more amazing things happen. 

If you want a demonstration of the power of social media to bring people together around real-world causes you only have to look back at the summer riots.

A disaffected youth came together through BBM to riot, but then residential communities across the country worked together to rebuild their communities - all organised and enabled through social media.

The latter was lauded as the ‘Big Society’ in action but as our CEO said in a Guardian piece last week, the ‘Big Society’ isn’t a new concept - it’s just a new phrase to describe good social leadership, and highlight what’s often already there. 

Social media is essentially about empowering people by allowing like-minded individuals to come together around ideas regardless of their geography, and this is where brands can really make a difference by providing the resources to make that engagement richer, easier and more fulfilling.

It is a huge opportunity and one that is yet to be fully grasped by most businesses.

Natalie Cowen

Published 27 February, 2012 by Natalie Cowen

Natalie Cowan is Head of Brand and Communications at first direct and a contributor to Econsultancy.

7 more posts from this author

You might be interested in

Comments (5)


Julia Levy, Director at Terra Firma Associates

Just had a great example of this. I followed @leapdayuk - a great initiative to donate time on the Leap Day. I asked if any organisations needed help with social media and @streetkidsuk has come back to me - all very visible and transparent and a great way to connect. All very recent, but a nice living case study on a very small scale.

over 6 years ago


Marion Dupont

We just published a study with the SMI on how major brands use social media to communicate about their Sustainability/CSR actions & challenges!

Don't hesitate to take a look at it and share your views if interested in the topic! ;)

over 6 years ago



All of that is true but none company is perfect and some mistakes could have took place sometime. Media can also be a way to attack the company. How can they manage that through a oficial facebook or tweeter acount? Thanks!!

over 6 years ago

Natalie Cowen

Natalie Cowen, Head of Brand and Communications at first direct

Thank you all for your responses.

Julia - it’s great to see an example of brands doing it right, and without the benefit of huge resources!

Marion - an interesting report and I particularly like the work PepsiCo’s been doing.

Danilo - social media's an open arena, so both negative and positive response is inevitable. Brands should use social platforms to communicate transparently with audiences, regardless of whether its media or consumers.

over 6 years ago



Very interesting article--the figures about the importance of a company's CSR efforts are striking. Ms. Cowan makes a great point about the role of social media in bringing like-minded people together, and its potential for increasing engagement. The exciting news is that businesses are beginning to recognize the power of social media for good, and there's a new Web start-up that is tapping into this potential. It provides a customized online community where businesses can collaborate on projects and view their impact through metrics. While it is encouraging that brands like Nike and Dell offer their own platforms for CSR, without an external platform, these companies have to expend considerable resources on creating and maintaining one. That's where companies like earthbongo come in.

over 6 years ago

Save or Cancel

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Digital Pulse newsletter. You will receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.