Dec 09 Stuart Singleton-White

Will Facebook be the must have accessory for sustainability communications in 2012?

Posted by: Stuart Singleton-White

In February 2010 the leading Sustainable Business and CSR thinker, Fabian Pattburg, wrote a blog entitled, Facebook – A useful Sustainability and CSR platform?  In it he concluded that Facebook wasn’t a great platform for sustainability. 

February 2010.  In the world of social media that’s a lifetime ago.  Or even two.  So I want to suggest that in 2012 Facebook will become the central place for communications, information sharing and discussion about sustainability.  And that will be true for NGO’s, businesses, the media and journalist.  In fact anyone who is interested in the issues and wants to further their impact and profile.  So if you’ve not got a presence on Facebook you’d better get one; and fast.

Why then have we gone from Fabian’s not sure to my “you bet”? Simply because of the changes to Facebook in the almost two years that have past and in 2011 in particular.

There has been much talk, and a lot of grumbling, about Facebook and the changes it has made.  But three changes have quietly built Facebook into a real powerhouse of communications and one that anyone in the business of communicating sustainability has to act upon.

Firstly, the growth of journalists who are now using Facebook as a place to gather stories, track stories, and even publish stories.  With resources like Facebook + Journalists now having almost 150,000 active registered journalists as having “liked” the page it is a key resource for contacting them and for getting information to them.  For many you don’t have to follow them as they use the new function of “subscribe” which allows you to track their interests and the things they are working on without committing to following them.

Secondly, and in response to Google+, you can now build lists.  This means you can have a much more subtle control of what you do and say on Facebook.  Choosing who gets what and targeting your communication more effectively.

And thirdly, the growth of apps.  For example more than 4 million Facebook users have installed the Guardian app.  In September 2010, Sheryl Sandberg – COO of Facebook – commented that, “all media will be personalised in three to five years”.  The massive take up of apps is proving her to have been correct.  But it could be even quicker, in 2012.  Facebook is already the second most visited website after Google.  Soon, for many, it will be the only place they go.  With apps and other add ons everyone will be coming to them and joining them in the Facebook space.

With this Facebook revolution continuing a pace, we as sustainability communicators have to be there.  We have to create spaces for us to operate and attract friends and “likes” to those spaces.  Facebook is becoming a fantastic opportunity to bring a huge range of ideas, sources and even platforms together to move sustainability forward in a way that has never been possible before.

In doing so we’re going to need to be savvy.  Too much sustainability communications are still shrill, preaching and oozing in gloom and doom future scenarios.  This has to change and to succeed it must change.  With Facebook it is as much about the conversation as it is about the message.  Hectoring will leave your audience cold.  Anyone in sustainability on Facebook has to be prepared to listen, to hear the challenges and even the negative comments and to reach out and explain.  Don’t go on Facebook to create followers.  Work to create fellow travellers and look for those travellers who are active, who will help bring others with them and who will effectively amplify your issues to audiences you can’t reach.

In the UK we may not have the “greenest government ever”, COP17 may not deliver and Rio+20 may disappoint.  But in 2012 we have Facebook.  Make it work and let’s create a world where millions of Facebook users are travelling on the same journey as us.

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