Online Company-Stakeholder communication:Lessons from Vattenfall’s Social Media Campaign on Climate Change Rikke Augustinus Eriksen & Mette Morsing Copenhagen Business School
In theory social media holds the potential for liberating dialogue for organizations as well as for individuals. Theories on corporate communication and public relations assume that social media hold the potential for a more frequent and open dialogue between companies and their stakeholders (Birth et al., 2008; Rolland & Bazzoni, 2009), … and that social media as such may serve as a tool for enhanced stakeholder relations (Fieseler, Fleck & Meckel, 2010). Media and culture studies demonstratehow credibility towards businesses and organizations are advanced via use of social media (Metzger, 2008), and sociology research suggests how social media may contribute to the promotion of democracy (Paparachissi, 2008).
• So, we expected to find new forms of engagedcompany-stakeholeder interaction in Vattenfall’s socialmedia campaign• However, this was not the case. On the contrary.
Vattenfall’s The Climate Manifesto - Consumers against climate changes• A case study of the pioneering case of energy company Vattenfall A/S’ pan-European social media campaign• Start September 30, 2008 and end December 1, 2008• Vattenfall’s objective was to increase dialogue with and among stakeholders to mobilize awareness of climate changes amongst the public
Data Analysis1. Reconstruction of the key Climate Manifesto events and reactions2. Analysis of Vattenfall’s communication efforts and reactions3. Development of a new analytical framework
Data• All online data was collected systematicall through qualitative desk research in the first half of 2010• Online media coverage (from September 1 till December 31) includes systematically retrieved messages and reactions from both Vattenfall and stakeholders from online news media, online press releases, websites and social media such as Facebook, Youtube and blogs• Supplementary offline campaign data, corporate communication, annual reports was used to inform the case study•
Data• In the period between September 1, 2008 and December 31, 2008, a total of 37 communication efforts and reactions related to Vattenfall’s Climate Manifesto campaign were identified in social media. In some of the reactions both Vattenfall and stakeholders are represented. 17 of the 37 communication efforts and reactions were placed in interactive social media, while the rest were published in online articles. 12 communication efforts and reactions originate from Vattenfall, and 4 of Vattenfall’s 12 efforts and reactions were placed in social media, while the rest were placed in traditional online media such as websites and online articles.• 13 of the 25 stakeholder reactions were placed in social media, while the rest were featured in online articles. Of the 25 reactions from stakeholders, 21 were negative and only 3 were positive
Table 1. Data reviewDate Media Sender Reactions: examples Dialogue/Interaction29.09.08 YouTube Vattenfall 1. Film/commercial. Sign the Climate Manifesto and join the fight Encouraged, not practiced 610+1038 against climate change. 0 comments and not possible views a) “It is true that large corporations carry a great deal of to post comments responsibility, but it is us as consumers who buy their products and therefore we have a responsibility too. The good news is that since we are part of the problem we are also part of the solution – in other words, you have a far greater impact than you think”. b) “The solution: By establishing climate requirements and principles we can in time reduce the number of harmful products on the market. How can you contribute? Sign the manifesto, express your opinion and support the politicians in making the necessary agreements”. c) “The manifesto consists of three requirements: one – we must set a global price on CO2 emissions, two – we must to a larger degree support climate friendly technologies, three – we must require climate friendly products. Together, these three requirements can have a remarkably positive effect in the fight against climate changes. Do you want to join? Sign the climate manifesto”...........27.10.08 Online NGO Criticism of Vattenfall and the Climate Manifesto, accusations of Vattenfall is offered advice article hypocrisy / manipulation, comments from Gitte Seeberg (Negative) on combating climate change “It is window-dressing and in worst case manipulation that a large from the NGO – interaction is representative for the absolutely most Co2 emitting industry portrays encouraged itself as the ones that do well for the climate”. Not possible to post “WWF (the NGO) encourages Vattenfall to use the support from the comments citizens already mobilized, to actually lift the ambition level in EU’s large climate- and energy package, that among other thing wishes to lower the CO2 emission with at least 20 percent in 2020”.27.10.08 Online Vattenfall 8. Communications Manager at Vattenfall Marianne Reedtz Encouraged and indirectly article Sparrevohn comments on the criticism practiced through third party a) “We do not recognize the picture WWF (NGO) portrays of us (…) media – Vattenfall considers We believe that we can document, that we are very active in each of the NGOs criticism Denmark with wind power, bio fuel and storage of CO2. We have and comments on them – not taken a lot of initiatives and made huge investments, and to my a standard answer knowledge we are one of the few corporations that have constructed Not possible to post an ambitious climate plan, to become CO2 neutral in 2050, in 2030 in comments the North” b) “When Vattenfall launches a climate campaign in the media spotlight, the reason is, that we acknowledge our responsibility and find it important, that both citizens and politicians are involved”
AnalysisVattenfall changes from a clear initial bridging response strategy to a more variedcommunication strategy including bolstering, clarification, transcendence,downplay and victimization. In our data analysis, Vattenfall demonstrates 8incidents of bridging, then 4 incidents of bolstering, 3 incidents of clarificationand 3 of transcendence, 2 incidents of downplay and 1 incident of victimization. Table 2. Vattenfall’s communication efforts and reactions to stakeholder engagement Date Media Vattenfall’s Issue-specific Response Strategy and Crisis Communication Strategy 29.09.08 YouTube 610+1038 views 1. Issue-specific Response Strategy: Bridging 29.09.08 YouTube 895+247 views 2. Issue-specific Response Strategy: Bridging 30.09.08 CAMPAIGN START BRUSSELS 30.09.08 Online article 3. Issue-specific Response Strategy: Bridging 30.09.08 Website 4. Issue-specific Response Strategy: Bridging 30.09.08 YouTube 3797 views 5. Issue-specific Response Strategy: Bridging 20.10.08 Online article 6. Issue-specific Response Strategy: Bridging 21.10.08 Online article 7. Issue-specific Response Strategy: Bridging 27.10.08 Online article 8.a) Crisis Communication Strategy: Association strategy - Bolstering (C1) 8.b) Crisis Communication Strategy: Association strategy - Transcendence (C2) 14.11.08 Online article 9.a) Crisis Communication Strategy: Distance strategy - Downplay (B2) 9.b) Crisis Communication Strategy: Non-existence strategy - Clarification (A2) 9.c) Crisis Communication Strategy: Association strategy - Bolstering (C1) 25.11.08 Online article 10.a) Crisis Communication Strategy: Association strategy - Bolstering (C1) 10.b) Crisis Communication Strategy: Non-existence strategy - Clarification (A2) 10.c) Crisis Communication Strategy: Association strategy - Transcendence (C2) 26.11.08 Online article 11.a) Crisis Communication Strategy: Suffering strategy - Victimization (D1) 11.b) Crisis Communication Strategy: Non-existence strategy - Clarification (A2) 11.c) Crisis Communication Strategy: Distance strategy - Downplay (B2) 11.d) Crisis Communication Strategy: Association strategy - Transcendence (C2) 11.e) Crisis Communication Strategy: Association strategy - Bolstering (C1) 11.12.08 YouTube 247 views 12. Issue-specific Response Strategy: Bridging
Campaign outcome• 244.192 stakeholders signed the climate manifesto – the signatures were in 2009 handed over to UN Global Compact However:• Negative stakeholder reactions and accusations of green washing in 2008• Vattenfall responds by repeating its statements and arguments• In the same year Vattenfall was awarded the ‘Climate Greenwash Award’ by Greenpeace
Case study findings• Company-stakeholder social media interaction is characterized by repetition of statements and arguments without attempts to understand or adjust positions• Company statements consisted of repreating and defending initial position• Negative stakeholder reactions consisted of non- negotiable argumentation: repetition of counter- positions
Conclusion• The assumption that company-stakeholder interaction and dialogue on CSR issues is advanced in social media is challenged• Social media implies an escalating risk of the ‘double edge of stakeholder communication” for managers• Companies risk achieving opposite – and negative - effects of their social media communication effort than intended
The double-edge sword of a corporate socialmedia engagement :On the one hand, companies feel an urge to engagein social media to improve stakeholder interactionand relationships, while, on the other hand, theysimultaneously expose themselves to provokinghigher levels of criticism