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Social responsibility and sustainability in brand and corporate communications

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Miriam Galler
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23.11.2020

There is hardly a company that does not use social media channels to reach its target groups. Almost 38 million Germans use Instagram, Facebook and Co. and since the corona pandemic, these anticipated trends have been increasing. The way users share or comment on their social media channels is changing. The needs, opinions and expectations of companies, politics or society are communicated faster, more honestly and sometimes more aggressively.

Social media usage has been increasing rapidly since the beginning of the corona pandemic

According to a current Bitkom study, 75 percent of Internet users have increased their social media usage since Corona. That said, there are more posts, shares, and comments. This applies equally to almost all age groups. For 30 to 49 year olds it is 82 percent, for 50 to 64 year olds 74 percent and almost every third user is over 65.

table showing the results of a survey about how the usage of Social Media increased during Corona

People all over the world not only spend more time online, they also use digital media and networks more intensively. This presents great opportunities, but also risks for companies. It is clear that irrelevant advertisements or irrelevant content have no effect and are therefore wasted investments.

Sustainability and social issues are becoming increasingly important

Social media not only ensure more exchange, they also create more transparency and the opportunity to uncover and disseminate grievances. And these opportunities are also being used. Almost two third of Germans have already boycotted a brand or a company because they were called on to do so by online media. Sometimes the boycott is short-lived, but around 60 percent of boycotters avoid certain companies permanently, as the market research and consulting institute YOUGov found out in 2017. The main reasons for boycotts are “harmful products”, “animal abuse”, closely followed by “pollution” and “racism”. There are many examples of this. As early as 1995, a boycott was organized against the Shell oil company because of its planned sinking of the Brent Spar oil platform. Or when AEG Electrolux relocated jobs to Eastern Europe, customers started a boycott and caused a drop in sales by a fifth.

The latest example are the boycotts against Adidas, H&M, Puma and Deichmann, who suspended their rent payments from April 2020 during the Corona crisis. This action was met with strong criticism from customers and led to calls for boycotts on social networks. Such waves of outrage often subside after a few weeks or months, but the long-term damage can hardly be measured.

Social media has not only increased the number of calls for boycotts, but also their response

Movements such as Black Lives Matter or Fridays for Future became so big because they are spread via social media channels. These reach effects force companies to increasingly position themselves in relation to questions on socio-political issues and to implement them in their long-term corporate strategies. The result of a Brandwatch study from March 2020 shows that fairness, social commitment, sustainability and anti-racism for companies will continue to increase.

„By now the last one has understood that brands bear responsibility for society and the environment. " Markus Weber (W&V)

Entrepreneurial activism has made headlines in recent weeks. Apple announced a $ 100 million initiative to promote "education, economic equality and criminal law reform." At the beginning of August, 27 corporations decided to create 75,000 jobs and 25,000 internships for disadvantaged career starters in New York over the next ten years in order to support the metropolis, which has been hit hard by the coronavirus. These include JP Morgan Chase, Microsoft and Amazon. Unfortunately, the initiatives are often still missing long-term goals and responsibilities.

Courage to take a clear stance – permanently

The American ice cream maker Ben & Jerrys is different, and has been known for its clear political stance since it was founded. Ben & Jerrys repeatedly takes a position on issues such as racism, homophobia or the environment and thus becomes a prime example of brands that show attitude. It is likely that you will lose customers as a result. But as Dipayan Biswas, Marketing Professor at the University of South Florida, told USA Today, "Just like politicians, brands do well with polarizing."

Instagram Pot of the "climate crisis" campaign by Ben & Jerrys

The Ben & Jerrys strategy is of course not a recipe for success for all companies. But the trend shows that companies and brands can no longer afford to be indifferent when it comes to major political, social or ecological issues. The decisive factor here is that consumers, and especially the growing generation of so-called social millennials, are increasingly looking for identification in products and brands.

„The statement that whoever polarizes more also achieves a higher revenue would be wrong. But one thing is true: brands that have not polarized have not increased their sales in recent years either. " Christoph Kamps – Trend and generation researchers

Business strategies that don't take this into account don't get better even with cool social media communication. Brand and communication design must deliver a consistent image and enable real relationships to be maintained with consumers. Ideally in all areas of the company.

The social media currency for successful brands is called: "Trust"

Digital communication behavior forces companies and brands to be more authentic. “Trust” is the key currency in social media. Brands that just pretend are quickly exposed by consumers and employees and ultimately punished with disregard or even refusal to buy. However, new strategies not only have to be developed and documented, but also comprehensively implemented and lived in the company. Especially at the management level.

Shareholder vs. Stakeholder - Customers see companies as responsible

The corona pandemic keeps us physically at a distance, but digitally we are moving closer and closer together and the dynamics of opinion-forming is developing rapidly. Politicians and entrepreneurs should act and not just talk. Terms like "profit" and "growth" are becoming swear words. This is also noticeable in marketing. Companies that only focus on rapid growth will lose competition in the long term with companies that make their ecological or social responsibility understandable. And this responsibility must also be translated into performance values for society, whether that is a proven improved CO2 balance or a transparent and fair production chain. Just as consumers can turn their backs on it, social media can also turn them into enthusiastic customers and thus credible brand ambassadors.

Conclusion

Snackable content, beauty tips from the nursery - all of this is social media, just like it is part of society, but a verifiable and ever larger proportion also wants to invest in sustainability, fairness and authenticity through its consumption. This trend is already visible in relevant sales growth. Meaningful content is more important here than ever before. Even if the pandemic is over one day, the use of social media will not decrease and the search for a deeper meaning in consumption, ecological or social responsibility will increase. Companies that regularly question their own brand strategy and then formulate and implement a future-proof social media strategy will also win on Facebook and Co.

Uhura is a digital agency and advises companies such as Kikkoman, Uniper, Schlaraffia or business associations and public administration on the development of social media strategies and helps with the implementation of effective measures. If you're wondering how Uhura can help you - just give us a call.

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