In this post, GlobalWebIndex's Strategic Insights Analyst, Olivia Valentine examines how social media has helped give a greater voice to green consumerism, and how changing consumer behaviour is challenging the way brands need to engage with communities online.
Environmental degradation is big news lately. There’s no shortage of news articles and documentaries that show us the damaging effects our throwaway culture is having on the environment. Sales of reusable cups and water bottles have soared in the UK in the last few years, according to high street store John Lewis, and its retail trends show that consumers are more mindful than ever of plastic use. The UK government is taking action too: banning the use of plastic straws and plastic cotton buds from 2020.
It’s not only a demand for sustainability that has grown but also a willingness among consumers to spend more on these types of products. In our global research, we’ve seen the number of consumers who say they would pay more for eco-friendly/sustainable products grow from 49 per cent in 2011 to 57 per cent in 2019. 1 in 2 of those who say this sit within the Gen Z and Millennial generation groups, showing that it’s the younger consumers driving the sustainable movement with their lifestyle and behavioural changes.
There’s no denying that more and more consumers are coming on board and acknowledging the threats to the environment. And social media has played - and continues to play - a significant role in influencing consumers’ views on sustainability and the environment. The average social media feed is now full of content which showcases the impact our consumption habits are having on the planet - whether that’s photos of plastic-ridden rivers in Asia or videos of melting ice caps.
Consequentially, as awareness grows, so does the pressure on brands, institutions and governments to take action and respond. In a bespoke study by GlobalWebIndex, consumers surveyed in the UK and the US said they felt most responsible for the future of the planet, but 52 per cent believed the responsibility lies with manufacturers or production bodies.
As social media continues to reach new universal heights, and content spreads faster than ever before, so does the demand for action - whether that’s action from consumers, brands or governments.
Greta Thunberg has become a figurehead in 2019 for championing climate action, as social media has helped push her message to millions around the world in record timing; inspiring many in the process. But, while social media has given climate and environmental activists a platform that they never used to have, what does this shift in behaviour mean for brands and how they engage with communities online?
Social media has become a hotspot for research
Alongside all its other uses, social media has fast become a go-to place for research and a noteworthy alternative to traditional search engines.
Social media is where eco-consumers are heading to find out more about products and services. Globally, it’s around 4 in 10 eco-consumers (those who say they try to buy organic/natural products and would pay more for sustainable/eco-friendly products) who say they mainly turn to social media (making them 10 per cent more likely to do so than the average internet user). That’s notably higher than the numbers who are checking out the actual brand/product’s website.
Highlighting what truly matters to these consumers
Social media eCommerce options have moved forward a lot in the past few years. Instagram, in particular, has rolled out a slew of updates to position itself as the home of social shopping. As such, the platform has become a favourite among eco-consumers; who are more likely to have visited and actively engaged with content on the platform in the last month.
Not only that, when they’re there, 1 in 5 are clicking on sponsored posts - using the ‘Shop Now’ or ‘Learn More’ buttons - and are 25 per cent more likely to be clicking on products tagged by brands or sellers.
But, what matters, is being able to catch these engaged consumers at the point of purchase. If brands are able to communicate their green credentials well, there's a big potential to convert, as eco-consumers are 41 per cent more likely to make an online purchase, if they know the product or company is environmentally friendly.
As sustainability climbs increasingly higher on the agenda of consumers, not just in influencing their loyalty for a brand but also playing a more vital role in their purchasing decisions, there is more pressure than ever for brands to not find themselves in the environmental firing line.
With millennials more conscious than ever, and Generation Z close on their trail, social media is helping to drive a long-term change in consumer behaviours which will mean that, going forward, brands will increasingly have no choice but to go green, or risk facing a social media storm.