Why Davos matters in the age of social media

The congress center at the Swiss resort of Davos. The World Economic Forum (WEF) will take place from 23 to 27 January.

Story highlights

  • Social media has brought greater accountability to business
  • Business can be a major force to drive social good in the world, says Jones
  • He says that businesses that do good in the world do well

Critics have traditionally had a field day slamming Davos as an event where the elite hop on their private jets to quaff champagne and pat each other on the back.

Where nothing of any value (except to those present) ever occurs. And ten, or maybe even five years ago, they were probably right.

Watch: Davos Live: All the action from WEF 2013

But since then, business and governments have had a massive wake up call. And Davos is becoming a very different event.

David Jones

Social media has empowered people to hold business and leaders accountable and to sanction and even remove those who behave in the wrong way.

Read more: How Davos can become less self-absorbed and more useful

We are now living in the "age of damage." Every week we see a new example of this -- from BP to News International, from Walmart to Starbucks, from the BBC to Foxconn to Libor.

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As Unilever CEO Paul Polman -- who chose the 2010 World Economic Forum as the venue to launch his plan to double Unilever's revenue while halving its carbon footprint -- said in an interview recently: "The consumer is able to identify responsible businesses from less responsible businesses. The pressure is higher but if you then deliver you will be rewarded more."

The new price of doing well is doing good and Polman seems to have the proof. "Unilever has one of its fastest growth rates now," he said. "We have just passed the €50 billion barrier --since 2011 we have created a Heinz or a Campbell Soup in incremental turnover without affecting the bottom line."

Read more: All you need to know to be a Davos delegate

Barclays CEO Antony Jenkins is another leader who understands both the challenges of operating in this era of radical transparency, and the power of social media. At the One Young World Summit in October he told delegates about the screen in his office that carried a rolling Twitter feed of tweets about Barclays. On the day the Libor scandal broke, Jenkins said it became an angry torrent, too quick to follow.

Last week, he wrote to the 140,000 Barclays staff telling them: "The rules have changed." He unveiled a new approach for the organization where staff would be assessed on their adherence to a set of values that defines Barclay's overall purpose in society.

Read more: Why 2013 could be a game-changer on climate

Jenkins and Polman are both great examples of what I call "green-blooded capitalists". Leaders who passionately believe in the power of business to be a force for good.

They will both be attending this week to drive their missions, alongside many other CEOs -- all of whom understand that far from being a place to hide, they will be under more scrutiny than ever in Davos.

At a simplistic level, in the last century NGOs and charities had great intentions, but not always great execution. Businesses had great execution, but not always great intentions.

This century needs to be about, and can be about, great intentions and great execution.

Business can be a major force, in fact, the major force to drive positive change in the world. And Davos, with its unique ability to bring together NGOs and business, can play an important role in that transformation.

But at the end of the day, actions speak louder than words. And all of us attending should keep that front of mind.