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Social Media Can Save The Planet

This post will clearly go all over the place, but it’s probably the only way to approximate “truth in headlining” with the post. After surveying things I’ve been writing on to help refine the blog, I’ve decided that sustainability of business practices is something I want to focus on going forward and I have been struggle for a headline for almost a week. Unfortunately I thought of this overly agressive headline while doing cocktails at the Cluetrain Event and stated it out loud as a transition piece I was going to do, so here we are team.

Sometimes doing what you say you’re going to do is tough, I actually ended up living in Guatemala for a while because of another casual public comment in grad school. In all fairness to my Dad, he never said having a set of core values was all rainbow and unicorns. The good with the bad I guess.

Green Washing Social Media

With the increased public declaration of environmental virtues by corporations, social media initiatives/projects can easily attach to these ever growing budget line items for the Global 2000. Potentially the transition from a pure play marketing opportunity to a core business requirement to remain competitive in the marketplace could be found in the green space. Investment in sustainable business practices ultimately lowers cost and improves effectiveness throughout the entire value chain. Social media can help deliver on these discreet business needs through network enabled communications and engagement.   Corporate green washing could be a good thing for social media.

Social media provides greening opportunity on many fronts for business not just deployment of social media by non-profit organizations. The customer/prospect engagement model of social media represents a paper free and transportation light alternatives for business to generate awareness and reduces friction in customer relationship management.

So there has been a considerable interest around a twitter account from Popeye’s Chicken and the positive feedback is certainly merited, but might also represent a paper free event management strategy. I normally don’t think about Popeye’s outside of Hartfield while I’m running for a plane and I now I’m somehow interested in an office chicken comparison event thanks to Twitter. What an interesting narrowcast event with zero cost and has definitely improved the brand’s visibility. Through network based interactions and social media tools Popeye’s has provided me access to an event I previously hadn’t been aware of.

As for a less effective and material rich comparison, I recently received 4 heavy stock post cards from IBM for an event I have zero interest in participating in. Not only did they hit me 4 times there was also a pile of at least another 50 for former employees on the counter for folks who had worked there for 5 years. I can’t even remember the event topic, but I do have the concept of wasteful in my head. With wasted materials and excess transportation of perhaps as many of 100 poorly target pieces to a single building or as much as 150,000 pieces globally from a single event it appears Marketing’s contribution to the benefits achieved in IBM’s annual environmental report could be elevated with social media in out years. That’s a whole lot of poorly target paper consumption and marketing spend which could roll up positively into the annual report.

Acknowledging the scale delta in these examples of a network based engagement models, each can be easily extrapolated into a meaningful metric around effectiveness, it’s just math. Quick logic indicates that free vs. not free scales in a reasonably linear fashion in network.

Sustainable Engagement: The Social Media ROI

So if you think of brand visibility and cost of delivery as key components of effective customer engagement, social media may be able to deliver an demonstrable ROI. Think about it, I truly haven’t thought of Popeye’s Chicken as a food stuff outside of the airport and definitely NEVER as a brand, but they have clearly created level of brand awareness which I did NOT get with the 4 duplicate cards from IBM. Leaving out fuzzy logic and brand math, it has some significant costs. Accountable math is not a requirement for social media or theoretical environmental models, but doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea to support.

ROI is about hard dollar reductions and any pull through opportunity to do a little green washing for the company is a good thing. Corporate values can be good things on several fronts.

Math is fairly straight forward: Production Costs + Postage. Simple approximated math says that IBM threw away over $20,000 from their media budget in a single mailing and chewed through a couple of carbon credits along away. I can’t imaging the annual impact, I think I get 2 mailers from IBM a month.

The Environmental Event Horizon for Social Media

So thanks to some random post on the LA Times blog and a Twitter account I’m more interested in some guys lunch event than a professionally planned IBM event – that’s an interesting parallel to ponder. Where organizations are looking to create awareness, social media is a great engagement model for marketers. The highly stylized IBM post card was completely ineffective. Social media provides for event management and broadcast messaging which has long worked in the geek community.

Personal proof point: Use of Twitter is how I ended up at the Cluetrain 10th anniversary event which was actually not the 10th anniversary since publication, but the I think the 9th is what I caught. Good thing mathematical accountability isn’t a social media core value.

Social media enablement of events is a great way to engage consumers to create awareness and provide reduced materials consumption which can easily be seen as green social media use case. Events are paper laden engagements and ripe with opportunity. From the initial outreach to conference schedules reduced consumption and costs have tangible business impact, plus we might get cooler stuff in the schwag bag if they saved on production costs. Technologies such as CVent have helped organizations to transition to paper free management, plus the added benefit of improved contact data quality since the users ultimately manage interest and level of participation themselves or get weeded out due to bounce backs. Social media’s green impact on conferences also extends to the virtual conference schedule.

A new platform from Cerado, Ventana, appears to also have a green value component on top of the social benefits of presence. The initial deliverables to the market included The Unofficial Pocket Guide for SXSW and the latest Official Supernova pocket guide this type of social media use case potentially become a preferred engagement model for event planners. This could ultimately eliminate paper agendas for some events while providing support for conference presence and communication not available with a 4X4 card stock badge insert.

Yup all over the place with this post- but this a simple example of achieving a competitive advantage in marketing which lowers cost and represents a great green washing opportunity for companies. Weak transitions and all – the conceptual hard dollar ROI model hopefully will get folks to thinking about how to help reduce the substitution of Influence for Investment when doing business cases for social media since it is the more generally acceptable use of the “I” in such conversations.