The internet has revolutionized information access, marketing, and even politics. Entire industries such as the print media continue to struggle to redefine themselves in light of this tectonic shift. Senior management is acutely aware of how the internet can be a powerful tool for environmental activists.
For nearly two decades companies have refined their own messages and uploaded them to their Web sites. Indeed, companies have grown quite proficient at using the internet to describe their environmental and social responsibility programs . . . just in time to be blindsided by the next wave in this continuing information revolution.
Social media tools and networks, such as blogs, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and MySpace, are at the heart of this next wave. For example, Greenpeace used social media to wage a war against Nestlé over its purchase of palm oil for use in a few of its products, “catching the Swiss food giant off guard.” Even though the controversy over clear-cutting forest in Indonesia for palm oil plantations has been around for many years and the company had already taken steps to reduce supplies from this source, Greenpeace skillfully used YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter to create a stir (and fundraising opportunities for itself).
Once put on the defensive, press releases can do little to counter a direct attack via these relationship networks. Companies need to identify well in advance possible exposure areas and establish their own network of supporters. It’s all about relationships with the community, the broader public, respected scientists and academicians, the media, and so on. It’s about building trust, which takes energy and resources. While there always seems to be endless resources available to environmental departments in the wake of a crisis, they are tough to come by in advance.