For the last three years, I have been the Vice Chair of Social Media for the American Bar Association Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources Air Quality Committee. The position requires posting developments in the law associated with air quality on Twitter and LinkedIn. While most companies recognize that social media in this era is critical to image, the “good” environmental impact of companies seems to be overshadowed by negative environmental posts about corporate and industrial America. This was illustrated after the 60 Minutes segment on Duke Energy. I decided to go to Twitter and type in #DukeEnergy. The results did not help Duke Energy’s branding at all.So what should companies do when there is an environmental incident? Should they avoid social media or should they embrace it? Most branding analysts say embrace it.
Analysts say that a company should have an immediate response to the negative publicity. “Keeping below the radar and taking a long time to respond seems to suggest that the organization is either a) guilty or b) not responding properly to the situation.” The company should not attack the negative publicity but rather be open to the message and counter it with information about how the company is addressing the incident. “Every crisis has the opportunity to benefit a company if they respond well to it.”
So what are some tips for using social media to better environmental branding?
First, use social media as a way to make connections with consumers. In the case of an environmental incident, immediately reach out to consumers and let them know how the company is addressing the issue. Many companies have plans for disaster response; these plans should include directives on how to address the incident on social media.
Second, rather than have a large generic social media campaign about what the company is doing about sustainability, address consumers’ concerns directly about the environmental incident. Generic campaigns may be useful as one part of environmental branding, but these campaigns ignore consumers’ immediate concerns about an incident.
Third, stop trying to control your image. Companies frequently have policies that limit individual employees to comment on an incident. While this “unified front” may seem beneficial for the branding of a company, it also inhibits employees from talking about the “good” that the company does in its community.
Finally, the company should be available to consumers and not hard to reach. A review of several companies’ Facebook and Twitter accounts indicates that the companies “talk” but do not listen. Posts by individuals are ignored, making the company appear uninterested in its consumers. Especially in light of an environmental incident, it is important to listen to consumers and respond appropriately.
Social media is not going away. 89% of adults age 18-29, 82% of adults age 30-49, 65% of adults age 50-64, and 49% of adults age 65+ use social media. Thus, moving forward in this internet age will require companies to take seriously their social media branding, especially in the context of environmental incidences that can be perceived in a negative light.
 Id. (quoting Jame Lythe).