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Social media has reconfigured the way in which all businesses and public entities now communicate. Open-sourced and inherently radical, it has created a space adverse to the tight image controls that brands once successfully exercised. Decades ago, it was almost impossible to reach certain brands, persons and products but with social media, marginalized dissenters can now make mince meat of the mightiest multinational brands thanks to an explosion of public platforms that have created unlimited venues for sharing facts, spreading rumours and propagating aggressive calls to action. This is to say nothing of the influencers or ‘professional activists’ who, supercharged by ‘social media steroids’, can now mobilize millions in a matter of hours against their chosen corporate or government target.

As a result, social media has subjected not just businesses, but governments, public agencies, big, medium and small sized entities, individuals, etc. to unparalleled scrutiny, forcing them to be part of the conversation, be open without risking over-exposure and meet often-contradictory expectations of what a sustainable business and/or governance environment should look like. This public scrutiny is intrinsically linked to the sustainability imperative where organisations are expected to self-regulate and maintain a consciousness of stakeholders expectations and needs at all times. Social media epitomizes that essence and manifests as the spirit of holding businesses or governments to account via virtual networks of diverse stakeholders across the world at the same time.

This mainstreaming of calls for accountability and responsibility demands a new way of working with sustainability and development issues online. It requires a complete overhaul of the old way of doing things. In the case of businesses, annually broadcasting achievements by posting a CSR report online or in the case of governments, giving a one-sided view of achievements, in favour of a more strategic conversation that once started can be sustained.

Sustainability and CSR issues have been slow to become more interactive. At the most recent count, more of the largest companies crowning the Dow Jones Sustainability Indices were found to be doing more to communicate their offline achievements on social media. This is indeed a sign that things are beginning to change. In the past few years a number of global brands have launched and developed dedicated sustainability Facebook pages, blogs, Twitter handles, and websites. The most progressive brands are also now using social media not only to broadcast messages but also to engage consumers, employees, manage reputational risks, demonstrate leadership, open new accounts, test products and services as well as harness the latest expert thinking.

*Being excerpts of a Welcome Address by Ini Onuk (Member, Advisory Board) at the Social Media Africa Summit held on January 24, 2015 in Lagos, Nigeria.

1]2015, Ini Onuk, Social Media Africa Summit, Keynote Address

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