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.