CSR and Social Media for a Troubled Brand

The last assignment we had in our Sustainability Marketing course last semester was to come up with a proposal for how Vattenfall – Europe’s third-largest energy company which is wholly owned by the Swedish Government – can build trust in the Vattenfall brand and improve their image on their different markets.

In preparation for the task, Vattenfall explained that one of the six tools used to communicate their CSR initiatives was social media. A daring feat since we all know how troublesome social media marketing can be to a fragile brand. Yet, although Vattenvall’s brand and CSR image have taken a beating in the media over the years I have to commend their effort to engage and communicate through this channel. It may not be the right way to go considering the weakness of their CSR and Brand image, yet there are some lessons to be learnt.

Our team decided that a discussion around Vattenfall’s social and digital media communication strategy would provide some valuable insight into why they fail so badly at building trust and improving their image. Although this blog is coming a tad bit late as this module ended nearly two months ago, I do think some of our insights are still interesting and contribute to the general discussion about how brands should and should not behave online.

Here are some of our thoughts on Vattenfall’s social media and online communication strategy.

With the advent of the information age, it is obvious that technologies like the internet and mobile communication (especially video) are powerful tools in the hands of activists, concerned consumers and citizens. People are better connected than ever before and the opportunities the internet provides for individuals to organize and create the critical mass needed to tip decisions and spread ideas is unprecedented.

When it comes to a brand like Vattenfall – that often claims to do more good within the area of CSR than bad – these social platforms, both physical and digital, have enormous power. As a blogger at the New Zealand Herald put it : ” what has changed is the speed with which social media can “spread the word” as the reverberations of “over-promising and under-delivering” circulate. A fact which Vattenfall knows all too well.

In Vattenfall’s case, social media will most likely not save the damaged brand and, if mismanaged, will only shine a brighter light on the flaws. In the best case scenario Vattenfall has the opportunity to be present in social platforms to listen and learn from what stakeholders’ are saying about their brand, subsequently leading them to respond more appropriately through traditional marketing channels. However, if they do decide to pursue a more truthful message strategy and if their marketeers are armed with the correct information, Vattenfall can engage in dialogue through social media that is meaningful and honest – emphasis on the correct and honest information.

As Don Tapscott says in his book Wikinomics: “the brands that do well in social media are the brands that look good naked. Because if you’re going to be naked online (which all brands are), you better be buff, in shape and ready for it.” A statement which hardly describes Vattenfall today.

Therefore, in accordance to what Mitch Joel from the Twist Image Blog writes, if any or all of the following statements rings true, maybe social media is the last thing a brand like Vattenfall should be doing:

  • The majority of people have nothing nice to say about the brand
  • Vattenfall’s customer service is over-worked with complains and issues
  • Vattenfall’s current brand strategy revolves around trying to make products sound better than they are
  • Vattenfall don’t have the time, passion and/or commitment to do social media with transparency, credibility and authenticity
  • Vattenfall really don’t care about customers and only care about selling
  • Vattenfall does not have the time or the resources to do it

Now we are not saying that all of these statements are true for Vattenfall, however, its likely those inside the company would find themselves saying yes to more than one of the above statements. In that case they should be considering a social media withdrawal.

Now, let’s assume Vattenfall does not fall into any of the above categories and that Vattenfall’s social media mission is therefore to be interesting, honest, relevant and consistent in order to build trust and community around their brand. How then can Vattenfall get enough “followers” and engagement through these platforms to make it all worth while? First, this is the wrong measurement of success. The real measurement is how engaged in the content and context is the Vattenfall community? Especially since their brand is unlikely to garner the type of following and enthusiasm brands such as Coca Cola or Apple do – even in markets like Sweden were the brand has a generally positive image. Therefore, the questions is not just “quality over quantity”, what we are aiming for is a new paradigm that focuses on a true level of engagement. Because with engagement comes loyalty and action.

So, how do we propose Vattenfall redesign their online and social media communication strategy to achieve such a level of interaction, dialogue and engagement?

Firstly, when an individual “googles” Vattenfall and gets over 20 outdated websites with inconsistent information, they have gotten about 17 too many. A general guideline for any brand – especially a brand as fragile as Vattenfall, were the slightest hint of “green-washing” activity will be highlighted by critics – is to KEEP IT FRESH. Websites that do not add value to the online brand image should be taken down or transitioned into archives on the main corporate site.

This first general rule leads into the next rule of thumb: “Invest in managing your online image”. Why? because almost every stakeholder will “google” your brand first to find out more about you, and if you’re not presenting an up to date, fresh and consistent message about current strategy and values when it comes to CSR, viewers will dismiss you as reactive followers and only assume you put up websites to accommodate for the latest eco-trend or to jump on the “bandwagon” to avoid the bad press if you don’t.

Whether it is for the Climate Manifesto campaign or to interact with the general public about more broad industry news, social media should be used with caution. Our suggestion to Vattenfall, if they do choose to pursue a social media strategy, is to take a more bold and calculated step: by building blogs, Wikis, numerous branded Twitter accounts, and a better You Tube page for external as well as internal use. However, this can only be done if Vattenfall have the resources and personnel to commit to it and is implemented with specific communication objectives and actionable tasks that employees at all levels can understand. For a brand like Vattenfall, a clearer and more strategic social media plan is needed, they simply can not afford to go in lightly.

Finally, digital social platforms are about human interaction, not a conversation between a corporate logo and a human. If Vattenfall employees have internalized the true values of the company and are trusted ambassadors of their CSR initiatives then they should be given the authority and the tools to communicate this message. By giving them a voice and the tools to discuss CSR topics with the online community Vattenfall will not only create a more believable dialogue, they will strengthen their consumer and employer brand as well. Honest, genuine and authentic discussions is what users, customers, potential employees look for in online brand communities. And, where appropriate, Vattenfall ambassadors should be present.

A good general Dos and Don’ts guide of Social Media for Business was posted in the Sirona Says blog and at The Steel Method.

This entry was posted in Communication, Marketing, Social Media, Sweden and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to CSR and Social Media for a Troubled Brand

  1. Chris Jarvis says:

    Great post – excellent!

    Companies should be reading this and evaluating their own strategy and position within the social web.

    I’ll be referring my readers to this post especially to the following statements:

    “How then can Vattenfall get enough “followers” and engagement through these platforms to make it all worth while? First, this is the wrong measurement of success. The real measurement is how engaged in the content and context is the Vattenfall community?”


    “the questions is not just “quality over quantity”, what we are aiming for is a new paradigm that focuses on a true level of engagement. Because with engagement comes loyalty and action.”

    Thanks so much for posting this, even if it’s 2 months after the module ended. It’s great stuff.


  2. Pingback: Too Much Nudity | Realized Worth

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