Far from the madding crowd: Business leaders must engage with ESG issues on social media
The past decade has seen huge and far-reaching changes across society. Protest movements like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo are commanding global attention. Alongside this, the climate crisis has accelerated with global citizens more focused than ever on what businesses are doing to ‘put things right’. As this piece is published, the war in Ukraine also means that corporate communicators and CEOs are facing some of the biggest comms and reputational challenges of their careers to date.
Against this challenging backdrop, companies are expected to meaningfully engage with stakeholders about their opinions, and – more importantly – the actions they are taking to address societal issues. For business leaders the opportunity this presents shouldn’t be underestimated – a CEO who personally articulates a considered, strategic, and evidence-based response, can reap huge benefits including an enhanced personal and employer brand, and strengthened reputation for the organisations they lead.
Sounds relatively straightforward, right?
Not for many businesses – according to the findings of research we recently undertook with The European Association of Communications Directors (EACD), surveying 108 communications professionals working around the world and across various sectors.
Our joint report Leadership in the Age of Purpose: How business leaders are using social media to engage on ESG issues, found that despite three-quarters of respondents saying that it’s very important for stakeholders to understand an organisation’s ESG credentials, many business leaders are reluctant to engage with key audiences where they are – on social media.
The disconnect can largely be explained by a lack of time, resources, and understanding; over 60% explained that their senior executives simply don’t have the time to engage with ESG issues on these channels. Significantly though, a quarter of the same cohort put it down to a fear of attracting negative attention in the ‘court of public opinion’ – and who wouldn’t be terrified of a social media ‘pile-on’? So, it comes as more of a surprise then, that a significant number of senior executives handle their own social media accounts and that in half of all cases, there is no formal plan in place at all for managing these accounts.
The lack of commitment at board level by some companies to engage on ESG issues is equally bewildering. A fifth of the professionals asked said that, within their own company, their colleagues have little or no understanding of the ESG issues critical to their employer’s business and are not confident that their employer has a clear ESG story to tell. This in itself is a lost opportunity, not only because narrative and storytelling have an important role to play in sharing the purpose and passion of any organisation (and in its transition and change to a more purpose-driven business model), but because employees can be such powerful advocates for a business.
Taking all of this into consideration, it’s obvious that, among many global companies, ESG communications is a) not getting the attention it deserves b) not happening where audiences are active and c) not coming from the leaders that stakeholders want to hear from. As action (or inaction) on ESG issues continue to dominate corporate reputations, this is something that urgently needs to change.
by Matthew Willis