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Social Media Crosses the Line

PepsiCo and ThinkSocial, a nonprofit initiative at the Paley Center for Media that advances use of social and mobile media for public purposes, hosted a unique event last week aimed at highlighting the growing buzz around corporate sustainability and using social media to leverage it.

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Marketing heads from global brands like GE, Timberland, Nokia and PepsiCo were on hand to not only discuss their CSR initiatives but also show how they are embracing their social media networks to leverage brand awareness.

While there was recognition of the growing and unavoidable role of social media in business strategy as well as risk management, most speakers stopped short of addressing how their relatively new awareness about corporate citizenship led to a frenzy of activity on various media platforms. Calling their sustainability initiative "Performance with Purpose," PepsiCo's Jeremy Cage, who heads up their Dream Machine recycling initiative, led the event. Acknowledging that there needed to be a "huge movement toward recycling globally" for a pronounced impact, Cage said, "Green is old news for the public as well as the media." "It is now up to us to use social media to create this revolution virtually," he added, noting that within three weeks of launching the Pepsi Refresh Project earlier this year, PepsiCo had managed to connect with almost 525 million consumers.

The unwritten idea behind all the presentations that followed was the same: How can a company leverage their social media network to engage stakeholdersand create a virtual—and global—workforce that is constantly feeding the idea machine and therefore, by active engagement, helping to redefine the brand for better?

An article in Mashable yesterday discusses how CEOs are using social media today to get real results. It reports, "While CEOs like to see data and clear results, it’s important to remember that brand perception and customer service are very real." And this realization was pervasive with the audience as well as among the executives that took the stage. Despite the numbers Cage quoted early in his presentation, he also cautioned patience. "We've learned to be patient. Despite our success [the Refresh project], we are still only reaching at best, 10% of our consumers. The challenge is how to take this mainstream," he said.

While it is clear that the C-suite is beginning to take Twitter, Facebook and their like as serious game changers in business strategy, what role will social media continue to play as it crosses the line between personal and professional? Since when did our presence on and use of Twitter and Facebook become mandatory job duties? Moreover, how are companies and contextually marketing strategies differentiating themselves in already crowded virtual spaces?

Not too long ago, I asked on this very blog: Does a potential candidate's presence on social media deserve a place in the traditional background check? (Tweeting Your Way out of a Job) Maybe this from Timberland's Senior Manager for Values Marketing Margaret Morey-Reuner, provides a helpful glimpse into the future for our careers as well as work culture: "We realize that social media is going to be a primary strand of fabric in the cultural fabric of companies. I imagine a future where the job description of every consumer-facing employee will have a social media accountability quotient attached."

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Aman Singh is the Corporate Responsibility Editor at Vault.com. She is a New York University alum and previously wrote for The Wall Street Journal. Her area of work includes corporate diversity practices and sustainability, and how they translate into recruitment and strategic development at companies. Connect with her on Twitter @VaultCSR.

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