Sanket Mehta, Assent Compliance Corporate Social Responsibility Analyst
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become a high priority, but which leaders have done most to advance the cause? And is social media a smart way to inspire change? In an interview with CorpGov, Assent Compliance Corporate Social Responsibility Analyst Sanket Mehta explains what it took to make the list of Top 100 Influence Leaders. The list includes nonprofit leaders including Dr. Sally Uren, who is CEO of Forum for the Future and Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. But there are also many senior executives from for-profit corporations including Alphabet Inc., The Walt Disney Company, Apple Inc., Verizon Communications Inc., and Visa Inc. The full interview is below.
Mr. Mehta is committed to helping companies implement CSR programs that align with UN Sustainable Development Goals and translate their results into financial growth. His work in sustainable development, policy, impact strategy and assessment, and reporting practices has spanned three continents. Before joining Assent, he was a thought leader in companies such as Dasra and Spie UK, and spearheaded sustainability advisory services across multiple sectors.
CorpGov: What is the key to being an effective CSR influencer?
Mr. Mehta: In my experience, there are a number of factors that factor into becoming an effective CSR influencer including how active one is at industry events, conferences, webinars and consultation sessions; and whether the individual raises awareness of corporate social responsibility issues, such as sustainability and human trafficking, both within their organization and abroad. I’ve found that one of the best ways to get involved in these types of initiatives is to have an active presence on social media, and the two most important aspects of being an effective CSR influencer online are content and reach.
Publishing CSR content can be a little tricky though. The media plays a key role in deciding what’s trending and what people want to hear, and there’s usually an overabundance of news items on only a few topics — for example, climate change. This is why it’s important to increase the range of issues you want to address. Since most CSR activities are focused on trade-offs (such as increasing solar power will lead to a decrease in CO2 by X amount, but will increase capital spending by Y percent and use of land area by Z percent), effective CSR content should reflect this. Having said that, your content does not have to be entirely unbiased — present the other’s side’s arguments but also share your opinion on the topic. This helps readers to understand both sides of the story and enables them to draw their own conclusions on the issue.
The other part of the equation is your reach, or audience, which refers to the total number of active followers you have on social media, and those attending the activities you participate in such as industry groups and trade shows. The most engaged audience is one that’s grown organically and the biggest trick to accomplishing that is to share engaging and relevant content. So my advice to those who want to become online influencers is to focus on creating great content first and you’ll find the audience you’re looking for will seek you out naturally.
CorpGov: What forms of social media are most effective to spread awareness of CSR issues?
Mr. Mehta: Depending on your goals and what you’re trying to achieve, the most effective form of social media to spread awareness of CSR issues will vary. If you represent a consumer-facing brand, I often find it’s better to spread awareness of CSR issues on Instagram or Twitter, where you can leverage trending hashtags to get involved in conversations with huge audiences of consumers. For B2B brands, LinkedIn is often the best platform to spread awareness of CSR issues. There is a ton of amazing CSR content being published and promoted on LinkedIn every day and, as a B2B brand, that is where professionals, your target market, go to get their news and discuss CSR related topics.
In terms of what form the content should take, I think sharing or publishing written content like blog posts and articles can be great for diving into the details of a particular issue, while more visual forms of communication like photos and video are inherently more shareable and therefore an excellent way to get a message spread widely. At the end of the day, it all comes down to which platform you’re using and which form of content will help you to best connect with your target audience.
CorpGov: Have platforms like Instagram (or others) become more important for CSR in the last few years?
Mr. Mehta: I would say yes, social media platforms have become more important for spreading CSR messages over the last few years. Platforms like Instagram allow brands to attract loyal customers who share the brand’s CSR values. Personally, I follow around 200 brands that have strong CSR policies on my own Instagram. This is a good way to get information directly from the brand. Younger people are less willing to buy products from (or work for) companies that don’t have well-defined corporate responsibility practices — just look at the employee protests at Google and consumer criticism during #DeleteUber. Furthermore, social media has made it easier for consumers to band together and confront businesses that “do the wrong thing.”
CorpGov: What advice would you offer to companies interested in having a bigger social presence on CSR issues?
- Actions speak louder than words. Make sure your company is action-oriented and has engaged in newsworthy CSR activities that can be promoted on social media. Remember, while social media is a good place to publicize CSR initiatives, you could lose brand value if consumers suspect greenwashing or your company doesn’t follow through on promises.
- Always be honest and humble. These are the unspoken, sacrosanct CSR/sustainability pillars. Mistakes happen, but every consumer loves a brand that is honest and humble in approach when sharing CSR-related information. It’s a good idea to stay away from bragging about your activities or shaming others.
- Let your followers grow organically. Reaching influencer status can be a challenge and many people are trying to get there faster by buying an audience or using other means to rapidly increase their following. Always remember, a loyal and passionate audience of 500 is more effective than 5,000 unengaged followers.
- Be passionate. It can be tempting to present a CSR-related issue by covering “just the facts” and provide only the objective details. Often, though, it equally important to share your own thoughts and feelings on the topic that your audience can identify with. This can help you connect with readers on a more personal level to keep them coming back for more.
John Jannarone, Editor-in-Chief