Influencers Must Avoid Woke Washing, Advocate Sincerely

INCA APAC Client Development Executive Madeleine Mak discusses why one-off and short-term diversity campaigns or cause-related posts are insufficient. Instead, Mak argues influencers and brands must continue to be transparent and committed.

By Madeleine Mak

Influencers have an undeniable impact on audiences. With the potential to effect user’s brand favorability and self-confidence, content creators have the weighted responsibility to ensure their platforms authentically benefit and uplift followers. Amid these unprecedented times, compassionate and purposeful engagement is even more paramount in connecting with audiences.

Social media can be a powerful catalyst for good. As evidenced by viral cause campaigns such as #FridayForFuture and #StopHateForProfit, it is clear that purpose, inclusion and diversity are important user and brand considerations. In a 2019 Deloitte report, 55% of audiences felt brands should actively engage with causes related to their purpose.

This strongly held belief is further supported by a 2020 Porter Novelli study where 64% of consumers claim to have selected, switched and boycotted a brand based on its stance on social and environmental issues alone. Interestingly, 35% of digital users claimed an influencer inspired them to advocate for a cause. Of these,  52%, spread awareness about the cause and 51% made a financialdonation as a result.

Impact-driven engagement can deepen connections between social media users and content creators. With the notion of purpose meaning something significant to all, this amplified affinity can be especially cultivated by creators who authentically align with their followers’ values. As public voices, influencers have the privileged capacity to incrementally impact the support for a cause by producing content that resonate with their audiences. For brands working with influencers, the prospect of doing good can motivate heightened dedication to a collaboration.

Recently, The World Health Organization partnered with INCA, GroupM’s brand-safe influencer marketing solution, to carry out a global cause campaign to help fight the spread of Covid-19 and to support the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. Over 47,000 influencers, from celebrity Selena Gomez to renowned sports team Real Madrid, disseminated key health and safety information about social distancing and proper hygiene habits through shows of solidarity, lifesaving health messages and campaigns including the #SafeHands Challenge, as well as entertainment during lockdown. By garnering 34 million Instagram engagements and over 3 billion TikTok video views in two weeks, it made clear that influencers have the capability to catalyse awareness and action.

That said, some influencers around the world have also gone astray. During The Blacks Lives Matter protests, multiple social media creators were caught disingenuously participating to capitalize on the movement and promote their online personas. Locally, Singaporean influencer Xiaxue and Malaysia’s ex-Miss Universe Samantha Katie James faced social media fury after releasing controversial statements on race. Shortly after, both lost partnerships with brands such as Daniel Wellington and Velvet Vanity Cosmetics, respectively. Acknowledging that sincerity and sensitivity are key, how can creators, brands and marketers appropriately incorporate and promote purpose in influencer marketing strategies? These are the three key steps to take in promoting purpose; transparency.

Audiences are becoming hyper aware of ‘woke washing’, or instances where a brand or influencer advocates for causes that do not reflect previous actions. This can be detrimental to credibility and trust as evidenced by online boycotts of Jo Malone and HSBC earlier this year.

Conversely, the choice to not acknowledge can similarly spark strong user reactions. Instead, influencers need to be open to their audiences about their efforts or lack thereof. With the latter, creators should transparently convey intentions to improve and create space for discussion by encouraging audiences to share relevant insights and experiences.

For both influencers and brands, advocating for good entails a heightened commitment to learn from and listen to audiences. Social listening tools can give marketers insight into follower sentiments, dictating when best to express solidarity and promote calls to action. Inclusivity and diversity is an especially pertinent topic with 69% of gen-z and millennials reporting positive reactions to ads with diverse models, according to research by YPulse.

Efforts should go beyond visual representation however, by using the powerful reach of brand and creator platforms to sincerely amplify unique voices. For example, brands and influencers can leverage on hosting social media takeovers. Cause campaigns similarly need to take additional steps by leading with validated facts and figures, redirecting to essential resources and giving exposure to relevant third-sector organizations.

One-off and short-term diversity campaigns or cause-related posts are insufficient. Instead, influencers and brands must continue being transparent and committed. This begins by genuinely evaluating how this extra lens of consideration can naturally complement core content strategies. With ongoing efforts to listen and learn from audience sentiments, deep user engagement can be truly fostered and harnessed for sustainable change.

Engaging with purpose is an alternate way to forge trusted and authentic relationships with audiences. Influencers, privileged with reach, credibility and reliability, are uniquely positioned to be a powerful force for change. It is up to us as marketers, brands and content creators to harness this potential in genuine, authentic and accountable ways.

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