(Originally posted in Conscious Connection Magazine)
Climate change, resource depletion, and consumption increase, are all sustainability issues caused by human actions and habits. Over the last decade, the concerns of what may happen to our planet as a result of these actions, and how future generations could be affected, have escalated to the point where individual people and organizations alike are realizing there’s a need for change in order to stem some of the damage that has been done. As sustainability concerns continue to grow, more and more businesses are looking for proactive ways to do more than simply acknowledge a need for change, and instead become change agents themselves.
Living Out Your CSR Program
All brands, large and small, old and new, must go beyond the special events and messaging that make up their corporate social responsibility programs and actually live out sustainability as an inherent day-to-day aspect of their business. The recycling bins around the office are great, as are the nonprofits you support annually with volunteer days and philanthropic contributions; but how many businesses, and to take it even further, how many employees, are living out the messages and values dispersed in your CSR guide every day? If prospects and customers look at your business from a more operational aspect, how sustainable would they say you are? Have you eliminated all paper from your operations and moved to digital communications? Whether it’s on-premise or off site and hosted by a third party, do you know how efficient your data center is? Have efforts been made to minimize power consumption?
If prospects and customers look at your business from a more operational aspect, how sustainable would they say you are?
Marketing is a very publicly visible aspect of your operations. Through it, prospects, customers, media, analysts, and others can get a glimpse of your company’s genuine attitude, especially toward issues like sustainability.While your high level marketing messaging may integrate with your CSR messaging, you can go much further in driving sustainability as a key priority for the company through your actions with marketing partners, such as online influencers.
Aligning Influencer Marketing with Your Values
Influencer marketing has emerged as an important aspect of marketing for many companies. As consumer habits have evolved, many place less emphasis on more traditional forms of marketing, such as advertising and public relations (media coverage), in favor of what ‘real people’ are saying online. These ‘real people’ are known as influencers and could be literally anyone. What’s common for all of them is that they’ve built a dedicated base of followers on one or more social media platforms, and those followers trust and value their opinions. Influencer marketing drives current day word-of-mouth marketing.
Many businesses form relationships, both paid and unpaid, with online influencers to gain their support in marketing the business’s products or services. Since these influencers have large numbers of followers who they can influence, they can be a valuable component of a marketing program.
But are businesses seeking out influencers whose views and actions align with their company values and CSR programs? Or are they simply looking for influencers who have large followings and can help drive more leads?
Brands should be very cautious and selective when choosing influencers to work with. For example, brands that are seen as very sustainable, such as Burt’s Bees, Tom’s of Maine or TOMS, can suffer serious reputation damage if they associate themselves with influencers not displaying the same type of sustainability values. By the same token, for a brand looking to change its perception in the market and improve its social responsibility, influencers can be a valuable tool.
Turning Influencers into Valuable CSR Partners
Influencers can be valuable to a brand not only in terms of leads or sales, but also in extending the reach of its messaging. For a brand focused on social responsibility, influencers possessing similar values can help increase awareness of the programs that company is trying to spread, such as minimizing power consumption, using organic and responsibly harvested ingredients, and reducing carbon footprints. In fact, from a reputational perspective, sometimes influencers can be more valuable to a brand when extending reach rather than driving leads.
In order to utilize influencers in the ways outlined above, companies must invest in their influencer programs, analyzing not just quantitative performance indicators, such as followers and number of posts, but also the more qualitative psychographic values of potential influencers. Influencer values can only be surfaced from analysis of their content – tweets, Instagram posts, Facebook posts, etc. The content is what really shows the opinions and actions of those influencers.
For brands looking for ways to go beyond CSR messaging, and move to day-to-day actions displaying their social responsibility, influencer marketing is a good way to live out that responsibility and sustainability. Influencers holding common values can help a brand live out their ideals, spread awareness of them, drive leads and hold the brand accountable.