How ‘ethical influencers’ engage their audiences about saving the planet

Have a quick think back to the last time you scrolled through social media. Maybe it was this morning, last night or a few minutes ago. What do you recall? One thing you’re bound to remember is the continuous stream of influencers showing off their latest content.

These could be videos of influencers discussing the latest skin-care products, the trendiest places to eat, their latest shopping haul or the PR packages they received from various brands.

Much of social media influencing is about getting consumers to buy more products. However, there is a contrasting group of influencers who use their online presence to advocate for changing how people buy and consume.

In our recently published research, we looked into this sub-category of influencers to understand how they use social media to campaign for leading a more sustainable, healthy and ethical lifestyle.

Who are the ethical influencers?

We refer to them as ethical influencers. They include those whose content is dedicated to educating their online audiences about the impact of day-to-day consumption habits on the environment. This can take the form of vegan influencers asking audiences to avoid using animals in eating, clothing or entertainment.

They can also be sustainability influencers asking audiences to reduce their consumption, minimize waste, recycle, buy less and reuse more. In general, they are advocating new ways of living and consuming.

Unlike other lifestyle influencers, ethical influencers face two unique challenges that make it harder for them to build their online profiles.

First, they have to provide a closeup of their everyday life to demonstrate the new lifestyle to their audience. This is different from other influencers who might avoid sharing their personal life and play out a well-curated public persona that can greatly contrast their private life.

Ethical influencers strive to be as personal and authentic as possible by sharing their everyday life, practices and struggles.

Providing that kind of close look at their own lives can sometimes put them at greater risk of scrutiny since online audiences constantly evaluate and interact with their content.

Second, ethical influencers aim to reach out to a diverse audience, some of whom are not necessarily interested in the new lifestyle. Because ethical influencers are fundamentally trying to promote certain lifestyle choices and habits, they need to connect with a wide range of people to convince them to alter their beliefs and behaviour.

This distinction puts them counter to social media algorithms and the norms of para-social relations that favour connections based on similar interests or lifestyles.

Given these challenges, how are ethical influencers navigating their muddy terrain?

Connecting with their online audience

We found that ethical influencers use five strategies: acting, humanizing, framing, pivoting and evangelizing. For those thinking of building a similar online profile, these strategies will help in gathering audience.

Acting is showing step-by-step the expertise and commitment of ethical influencers when it comes to the new consumption practices.

For example, Lauren Singer, an enviromental influencer, posts regularly on her expertise on ways to reduce waste. Singer is most famous for fitting all the waste she produced in two years in a 16-ounce Mason jar. Acting helps ethical influencers establish legitimacy with their audience.

Humanizing is shown through sharing personal stories that might not be directly linked to green consumption. Here, ethical influencers may talk about the latest work gathering, the new addition of a family member or the new hiking trail with their pet. Humanizing aids in fostering some sort of para-social relation with the audience. It shows them as human beings, not just change agents.

Framing spotlights the unwanted consumption practices. For example, ethical influencers talk about the dangers of using detergents packed in plastic containers as they deplete the Earth’s resources. Other posts include ethical influencers discussing the animal abuse in the production of cosmetics. Framing helps their audience delineate the desired versus the undesired practices in their everyday life.

Pivoting is about linking audiences with ethical businesses so they can better navigate the market with its myriad choices. This isn’t so much about brand advertising, nor monetized collaboration, but rather reviews about ethical product performance. Pivoting helps audiences find substitutes to their daily products that are in line with living the new, more sustainable lifestyle.

Finally, evangelizing fuels a sense of community among members. Changing our behaviour and habits can be a daunting journey. Fostering a sense of belonging aids members in their quest and shields them from falling back into their old habits. These strategies, combined together, allow ethical influencers to achieve their ultimate goals.

While ethical influencers are not new, they are increasing both in terms of the number of accounts and in their popularity. They are striving to connect to, engage and educate audiences on living differently and having a positive impact on the planet. Their efforts make them a valuable resource when it comes to championing sustainability, ethical consumption and tackling climate change. Läs mer…

From Barbie to Thomas the Tank Engine: How entertainment brands are adapting to Generation Alpha

Growing up, did you play with hyper-sexualized Barbie dolls, boys-only Thomas the Tank Engine trains, or slim, white Disney princesses? If so, you’re not alone, but this is no longer the case for Generation Alpha.

Brands like Mattel, once criticized for promoting unrealistic body standards and gender stereotypes, now portray themselves as feminist and progressive. The recent Barbie movie serves as a prime example of this shift.

Millennial parents are actively seeking out toys, books and movies to educate their children about life and teach them values that align with their own, from body positivity to diversity to accepting others and embracing their sexuality.

At the same time, Millennial parents are quick to criticize brands that are not reflective of their values. Social media campaigns like #CancelDrSeuss, which called attention to racist imagery in the author’s books, are an example of consumers holding brands accountable for their past missteps.

What’s notable about these calls for accountability is that they often stem from a brand’s history of exclusion, such as American Girl’s limited number of dolls with marginalized identities, or the racist depictions of Indigenous people on Disney’s old Splash Mountain ride. These critiques highlight a broader societal shift towards inclusivity and cultural sensitivity.

Revamping products

As marketing researchers, we aimed to understand how entertainment brands are adapting to changing political, cultural and social norms. Our recent study identified three primary ways these brands are evolving: through changes in their products, shifts in hiring practices and increased involvement in their communities.

Some brands have made efforts to revamp their products, ranging from apologizing for past mistakes to removing offensive features or overhauling their market offerings entirely. Apologizing, such as the disclaimer Disney has added to some of its older movies about racist stereotypes, was one of the most common actions brands took.

Other brands, like Warner Bros., have opted to remove problematic traits from their characters. In Space Jam: A New Legacy, the character Lola Bunny was redesigned to not be hypersexualized like she was in the first film. Other brands have discontinued products deemed problematic, as seen when Dr. Seuss Enterprises pulled six books out of circulation.

Disney’s new streaming service, Disney Plus, has added a disclaimer to ‘Dumbo,’ ‘Peter Pan’ and other classics because they depict racist stereotypes, underscoring a challenge media companies face when they resurrect older movies in modern times.
(AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Such actions are sometimes carried out concurrently. In, 2014, Mattel issued an apology for a book it published that enforced gender stereotypes about women not being able to code.

Since then, the brand has conducted a range of systematic changes, such as the introduction of a diverse line of dolls of different professions, even those previously masculinized in the market, as well as dolls with different body types and skin tones, and dolls with different disabilities.

Equity, diversity and inclusion

Along with changes in their products, brands have also reformed their workforce towards equity, diversity and inclusion to varying degrees.

For instance, Nintendo has promised to be more transparent in their recruitment process, since women currently occupy only 23.5 per cent of their global managerial positions. This stands in contrast with Mattel, the parent company of Barbie and American Girl, whose board of directors has five women out of a total of 11 members, with 30 per cent belonging to ethnic minority groups.

Disney, in comparison, has dedicated a page on its website to provide transparency regarding the racial and gender diversity of its workplace across the various levels. This signals its commitment to fostering a more inclusive workplace culture.

These efforts come at a time when companies are increasingly recognizing the importance of diversity and inclusion not only as ethical imperatives, but as strategic advantages for long-term success in today’s global marketplace.

Community involvement

The last change entertainment brands have been making in response to social pressures is increasing their involvement within their communities.

Some brands have pursued traditional approaches of donations to different non-profit organizations like American Girl’s support for Save the Children.

Other brands have partnered with non-profit organizations representing people with disabilities to guarantee the inclusiveness of their products. For example, UNO teamed up with the National Federation of the Blind to create a Braille version of the card game.

Thomas and Friends participated in a United Nations sustainability campaign and consulted with UN advisors to ensure the inclusiveness of their new shows.

Other brands started and maintained their own non-profit organizations to push for changes. Sesame Workshop, the organization behind Sesame Street, provides education materials to help children understand sensitive social issues like racism.

Changing to stay relevant

As our understanding of diversity evolves, so too do our expectations of the media and entertainment we consume, especially when it comes to shaping the values and perceptions of young minds.

Consumers wield significant influence in shaping the trajectory of entertainment brands, as evidenced by their demands for more inclusive and socially conscious content. By holding brands accountable for their actions and advocating for change, consumers play a role in driving the evolution towards a more equitable and diverse entertainment landscape.

In today’s ever-evolving socio-cultural climate, entertainment brands must constantly adapt to stay relevant to parents and their children. These actions can be reactively pursued due to socio-cultural pressures, or taken proactively as brands attempt to stay ahead of trends.

Irrespective of the source of change, to contribute sustainably to inclusion, diversity and equality, the changes need to be echoed on multiple fronts: in products, in the workplace and within our communities. Läs mer…