10th August, 2010. The day when the first meaningful tweet from the garbage industry in the UK came out: “Don’t miss what happens when Viridor CEO Colin Drummond joins staff as part of Channel 4’s Undercover Boss. This Thursday 9pm.“ No one replied to that.
The fifth largest UK company by revenue, Viridor, started a new era of a waste management industry while actively using social media. A month later, the third largest company, Sita UK, followed this example and also established their account. Is tweeting about garbage a new trend?
It appears so. So far, Viridor has 2794 tweets related to the garbage industry, whereas Sita UK – “only” has 1203. FCC Environment, the largest company in waste management industry in the UK, opened their account July 2010 (though no active communication was observed until mid-2011).
“Social media is the form of communication that waste management industry has to choose”, Waleed Montasser from the Center for Sustainable Wastes Management (University of Northampton, UK) claims. “Now people have to have a chance to ask the things they care about more interactively than just picking up a phone and calling to a waste management company.”
But even if garbage companies opened Twitter accounts as a way to keep consumers informed, so far Twitter seems to be a place for frustrated customers to vent their feelings. At the moment, the only type of opinions you can find is consumers insulting the companies: “F*****g w****rs emptying bins at this time in the morning!”
Potentially, social media could have a positive sociological impact, say experts. “Social media is the place where waste management companies could explain to the consumers why they have to recycle”, says Montasser. “This could create the culture we have been trying for years.”
But the way in which garbage companies have implemented their social media strategies seems to encourage people to be more passive: even if they are following the companies that take care of their garbage on Twitter, customers do not necessarily ask where to recycle or how to avoid creating more waste. “The companies have to decide whom they are addressing their tweets to, what content they want to publish, how many human resources they can allow themselves to devote for this purpose. All this is costly”, Montasser explains.
“Another issue lies in the confidentiality the company has to deal with – once you address your post to a company, everyone can see your personal data. But at the same time, you yourself have to realize what do you agree on when registering to Facebook or Twitter.”
Currently, only 9 out of 20 largest waste management companies in the UK have their Twitter account. Despite that, Waleed Montasser sais that in his research he has found a clear link between how well the waste management company performs and its deployment of social media.
“It is just the matter of time when companies and citizens will change their behaviour,” Montasser says.