Sustainability Messaging Gone Wrong and 3 Essential Lessons Learned

Your CSR strategy may be an easy target for gossip and misinformation - but don’t worry, staying on top of it is easier than you think.

Social Media at it's Worst

Social Media is, without question, an incredible development of the people, by the people, for the people. It's democracy at its best and - unlike the government - it functions in real time. Most days, I'm in relative awe of the power of social media to connect people, extend relationships and empower communities. But like all good things, social media has it's dark side - a dark side that reminds me all too much of that age-old game, "Telephone."

For Example...

You may have received an email a few weeks ago calling on the public to react to horrific acts taking place in Costa Rica. On a beach in Guanacaste, where hundreds of endangered sea turtles lay their eggs each year, villagers were sneaking out to steal the eggs in order to use them for food. In effort to protect this doomed species, activists utilized social media to spread the word and beg for a public outcry.

The activists however, would have done well to check their facts.

The Facts

In reality, the story was entirely different. The photos are of the Conservation and Use of Ridley Sea Turtle Eggs Project (Lepidochels olivacea) at the Ostional National Wildlife Refuge in Guanacaste.

Apparently, there are only a couple dozen beaches on the entire planet where these turtles come to nest each year. As many as 20,000 turtles dig nests at a time. This scenario is repeated over three or four nights. Unfortunately,  many of these precious eggs are destroyed by other turtles trying to dig their own nests.

“Scientists figured that by removing eggs laid during the first two nights, the rate of successful hatching and hatchling survival might increase. Thus was born an experiment unique to Ostional. Elsewhere throughout Costa Rica, taking marine turtle eggs is illegal. Yet poaching of nests nationwide has been a constant problem due to a traditional demand for eggs for baking and as (supposedly) aphrodisiacal drinks in bars and brothels.

An exception to the law was granted and the Ostional community was legally permitted to harvest a specific amount of eggs for commercial purposes under the supervision of the Ostional Internal Development Association (ADIO in Spanish). Only eggs stamped with the ADIO trademark may legally be sold (packed in sealed bags displaying the association’s logo and sold with corresponding invoices) and purchased in Costa Rica.”

The result has been a notable increase of the Ridley Sea Turtle population. Also, the legal eggs have virtually destroyed the market for illicit poaching of eggs on other beaches. 

The Moral of the Story

Three takeaways for companies regarding CSR & Social Media: 

1. Listen. Pay attention to what people are saying about your brand and your CSR efforts online. It might be exactly the opposite of what’s actually happening - which means you have an opportunity to join the conversation and clarify.

2. Engage. Build relationships with your online community so they can bring odd-sounding articles, blogs and other information about you to your attention. I’ve certainly done this for brands that I believe are doing great work. 

3. Use Every Opportunity. Bad press or incorrect messages are an excellent opportunity to inform your stakeholders and broaden your audience. In all honesty, it was the negative side of the story (the gossip) that caught my attention. But the follow-up correction informed me in a way that would have been impossible otherwise. I now know what a Ridely Sea Turtle is and I am connected to an important effort in Costa Rica that I previously knew nothing about.

To continue discussing this issue, comment below or contact Chris and Angela directly:


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