The world can be a scary place these days. If you look at the news, you’re likely to find polarising politics, government shutdowns, threats of war, environmental disasters and climate crisis. Paradigm shifts are taking place across society, resulting in a global deficit of trust and the challenging of incumbent authorities. The people of the world are angry, and prepared to fight for what they believe in. This is why we also regularly see impeachments and resignations, protests and demonstrations, and transformative new legislation in the news.
One of the most important tools in the arsenal for these movements is social media.
It’s true that social media doesn’t have a great reputation these days. Facebook and their many associated platforms have had their share of bad press in recent years for their unethical data practices, and as the chart from GlobalWebIndex below shows, this has had a clear impact on how they are perceived.
Many people would argue that social media is at least partially responsible for a number of the scary things I’ve listed in the first paragraph of this article, and they wouldn’t be wrong. However, I believe that social media can also be a powerful instigator for positive social change; transforming opinions, empowering people, creating dialogue, and providing a platform for people to organise themselves.
Thanks to social media, the tragedies of the world have never felt closer or more real to us. Rather than experiencing these real world events through the lens of major news outlets, we often see them through personal stories and experiences shared on social media. This creates a stronger emotional and empathetic reaction, which we feel the need to respond to in some way. Luckily, social media and modern technology also provide a number of ways in which we can take positive action in response to these tragic events.
Take the recent example of the Australian Bushfires. Australian comedian and Instagram influencer Celeste Barber, best known for her imitations of celebrity instagram posts, raised more than $20million for local fire brigades in just 48 hours after sharing a personal story about her family being evacuated from their town in New South Wales.
Celeste’s fundraiser became one of the most popular, giving social media users around the world a way to show their support and turn their sadness at the unfolding events into a positive action, even if they hadn’t heard of Celeste prior to donating.
In the face of tragic events like these, social media can give rise to positive voices and actions, empowering charities and creating an impressive ripple effect.
So how does this trend affect brands and businesses?
To use the same example, in the midst of the bushfires, many Australian brands also chose to take positive action. When scrolling through Instagram, consumers saw a number of prominent brands announcing the decision to donate sales and profits to relief efforts.
In the past, many brands might have avoided associating themselves with this tragedy. However, taking quick action like this improves their global brand perception while also temporarily boosting sales.
Recent data shows that social responsibility is an increasingly important factor in consumers’ purchasing decisions. Nearly half of the respondents in a GlobalWebIndex study were willing to pay a premium for socially conscious or environmentally friendly brands. This is especially true for the 25-34 age group, despite the fact that this group does not yet have the highest disposable income. This means that, as younger consumers gather more spending power, responsible consumption is likely to become an even greater influence on purchasing decisions.
Poor commitment to environmental and social causes can have a significant negative effect on brand perception. However, consumers are also very wary of brands “greenwashing” or trying to appear to be more ethical or socially conscious than they really are. 81% of consumers would be likely to stop using a brand if they made a misleading pledge to social or environmental causes.
Where should you start?
Brands are expected to and should be taking action. If you’re unsure where to start, these are three important things to consider:
- Value – We are living in a value economy. Helping consumers to make positive, socially conscious choices is a highly valuable differentiator in a landscape of ever more complicated purchasing decisions. Educate your audience, adopt a strategy of complete transparency and start thinking about how your brand can become the positive choice.
- Relevance – When developing your CSR (corporate social responsibility) strategy, consider not only which issues are most important to your audience but also which are most relevant to your brand. Take a look at the Sustainable Development Goals and get a sense of where your brand might fit in, in order to act authentically and have the greatest impact.
- Context – Your brand doesn’t exist within a vacuum. Keep your finger on the pulse of the world’s news and put processes in place that will allow you to act quickly. Avoid embarrassing blunders by being aware of the latest discourse on an issue and find the opportunities to take quick positive action where appropriate. Your audience may reward you.
There is a careful path to tread here for brands. Any action you take will be heavily scrutinised for authenticity and impact by your consumers; therefore you can’t walk into these areas without being fully conscious and aware of the context your brand sits within. Despite these challenges, perceived inaction is likely to have even more severe consequences for your brand perception in the long term as the spending power of younger generations grows. So, will you take the leap now or suffer the consequences later?