Rethinking your annual sustainability report as a yearlong storytelling dialogue

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Does feeding the digital beast keep you up at night?

Feeding the digital beast. It can be a source of sleepless nights for PR pros who’ve been charged with providing fresh content for a company’s website, Facebook page, Instagram posts and Twitter feeds, among other platforms. A large source of material could be within your grasp: sustainability reports. OK, I know what you’re thinking, but hear me out. I’ll admit these voluminous documents are usually seen as a snooze-fest, not as central to PR’s content marketing effort. But that’s starting to change.

Produced to demonstrate compliance with environmental and social issues, sustainability reports have the benefit of being timely, authoritative and on-message. The trick is massaging their content to make them compelling and bite-sized enough for an employee, customer, investor, reporter, blogger or other interested party to read and—one can hope—share with friends and followers.

A steady drumbeat of social media nuggets from your sustainability report can ensure that your company’s efforts remain in stakeholder’s minds throughout the year.

There’s another benefit besides being a copy source: peppering your company’s social media needs with nuggets from sustainability reports can help ensure that sustainability will remain a part of the company dialogue throughout the year rather than only in the days and weeks following publication of the report.

One tactic is to use the reports as a tool to partner with other departments

  • Human Resources owns the task of making a company appealing to prospective applicants. If HR pros populate a Twitter feed or control the company LinkedIn page, pre-written content from the sustainability report would be a welcome addition that helps them fulfill their mission.
  • Sales executives are always looking for an excuse to re-connect with an existing customer or to keep the company’s name top of mind for a prospect. Sharing elements of the sustainability report periodically could be done through an email alias, an intranet, or the internal social tools associated with the company CRM, Salesforce Chatter, for example.
  • Marketing is faced with the challenge of keeping engagement levels high on consumer social media platforms like Pinterest, Facebook and YouTube. Quality digital assets created around issues in the sustainability report are conversation topics that paint the company in a good light without appearing overtly commercial.
  • The foundation or philanthropic arm of a company likely stays in contact with its community through email, newsletters and other means. Sustainability report content is perfect for its constituencies.

Then combine the above with a simultaneous campaign on external sites

With alliances established inside the organization, the PR group should also maximize visibility on external sites whose readers are passionate about CSR and sustainability. Certain online sites feature content about volunteerism and cause marketing. Others focus on social entrepreneurism, education, governance, diversity or environment. Those following content on these sites and their associated social channels and email newsletters include B2B and consumer audiences.

  • A launch post, summarizing the report and its importance. Embed a photo or video. The employee-focused post can call out staffers who are featured in the report, while the externally focused post can acknowledge a charity partner, community or customer mentioned in the report.
  • Launch photo or video. Numerous consumption studies of Facebook- and Twitter-user behavior demonstrate superior performance and virality for content containing multimedia over text-only posts.
  • Additional video. Using the narrative of the sustainability report as a guide, produce short videos that tell the story behind achievements in the report. If a substantial donation was made to a charity, interview the organization’s executives and use B-roll showing how the corporate contribution helped people, animals or the environment.
  • Infographics. Sustainability reports are, by their nature, weighed down heavily with data. But numbers tell stories.
  • Webinar or town hall. Behind each company’s sustainability effort is a minimum of one or two dedicated executives who gather data and form the narrative, usually with a passionate sponsor in the C-suite.
  • Twitter Chat. Depending on an organization’s individual assessment of risk, a public dialogue about sustainability might be appropriate, especially when there is a philanthropic angle or strong community partner that steers it away from the company’s products and services.
  • Periodic blog posts. Every month or so, focus on a new section in the sustainability report and write a few paragraphs to frame the content. Then link to that section of the report and publish it over internal and external channels. You’ll see a nice traffic bump rather than living in the old paradigm of one spike in Q1 and a flatline the remainder of the year.

This article was originally published in the June 8, 2015 issue of PR News
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Dave Armon is CMO of 3BL Media, a news and content distribution platform for sustainability and CSR. Follow him on Twitter, @daveyarmon, and read his blog, 3blmedia.com/blog