Blog: Dean BestMars turns to Twitter to discuss CSR strategy

Dean Best | 29 July 2013

Mars Inc last week interestingly opted to use Twitter to publicise its CSR initiatives. While not quite providing the "in-depth look at Mars' sustainability strategy" the company and online portal triplepundit.com touted, it was a worthwhile exercise.

The "stakeholder chat", hosted by triplepundit and digital media platform CSRwire, gave Twitter users the opportunity to ask the US food giant about its sustainability strategy and the latest developments in its Principles in Action programme.

You may ask just how much you can quiz a company, particularly on such a complex and wide-ranging subject, on Twitter. The 140-character limit on Tweets make for brief questions and mean answers are not as in-depth as perhaps one would like. The need to keep answers down to 140 characters and under clearly benefits the interviewee ration the information they choose to publish. And of course questions can be monitored and discarded if a company would prefer not to answer (that is not to say that happened in this case).

However, some companies prefer not to open up too much on CSR or provide any means of on-the-record public questioning of their programmes, so Mars should be recognised for its willingness to engage.

The event, which Mars said was led by its new chief sustainability officer Barry Parkin, did have its benefits. Okay, in some cases, the answers were frustratingly short and, given the time constraints and the amount of questions coming in, it would have been hard to press further.

However, the exercise provided an opportunity for those tuning in to see what issues were on people's minds, to see the kind of people interested in hearing what a company likes Mars has to say on sustainability and also provided a place for a kind of virtual networking.

I asked: "What's Mars hoping to gain from this event? Why's Mars using Twitter as platform to discuss its CSR report?"

The answer from @MarsGlobal: "We want to try new ways to connect, learn and be challenged."

The question also prompted a series of responses from other users including from the two companies hosting the event:

@triplepundit: "Twitter is great platform for understanding zeitgeist of an issue - direct stakeholder engagement."

@kristensibilia from CSRwire: "Why Twitter? Why Not? RT @MarsGlobal A17: We want to try new ways to connect, learn and be challenged."

But also from elsewhere:

@elizholtan from the Council of Better Business Bureaus: "Agreed @triplepundit. Twitter is an accessible, transparent platform where #trust, #sustainability, #CSR are already discussed."

The event did provide a platform for both Mars to outline its work in areas from emissions to nutrition but also allowed interested parties to engage with one of the world's largest food corporations on a number of issues.

It may not be the ideal way for a company to be pushed on particular points or quizzed in an in-depth manner but the event added to the public discourse on CSR.

Perhaps a future consideration would be to try to entice a broader audience than the media, CSR experts, NGOs and academics that appeared to be present. How successful that would be is open for question. But to get more consumers involved in such debates could really give the likes of Mars - and us all - an insight into how the punters that buy products day in, day out perceive CSR strategy and what issues they prioritise.

CSRwire published a Storify of the Mars CSR Twitter chat. Click here to read what happened.

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