Social media has been utilized for spreading awareness, from hashtag activism to accounts dedicated to speaking out for a specific cause. In the realm of environmentalism, the WWF’s endangered species emoji campaign utilized Twitter to create awareness and gather donations. But what about when activism, influencers, and corporations amalgamate on Instagram?
As an advocate for environmentalism, Instagram has become a wealth of information on green living for me and a source for exploring new, sustainable products. As I started following environmentally focused accounts, Instagram’s algorithm spit out more green-centered posts on my explore pages, and as I began visiting pages of green businesses, my feed became saturated with ads for sustainable products. Social media has given a platform for green businesses and influencers to communicate about eco-friendly lifestyles, products, and issues. and consequently, they have built up online communities centered around eco-consciousness. Instagram is a powerful platform for green-conscious people to receive information, for businesses to draw in consumers, and for influencers to create communities of eco-minded people.
Before diving into the ways in which social media functions for eco-conscious communities, influencers, and business, I want to first dive into how this presence of businesses and communities on online platforms have altered the way in which we interact with and hold companies responsible for their ecological footprint. “Greenwashing” is the over-exaggeration or fabrication of a firm’s sustainability measurements. In Tweetjacked: The Impact of Social Media on Corporate Greenwash, Lyon and Montgomery’s hypothesis and research focused on social media’s ability to mitigate corporate greenwashing. According to their research, social media platforms enable “consumers and activists to call attention to and mobilize opposition against corporate communications that are deemed to be greenwash” (753). Social media’s participatory affordance constructs a two-way communication model which allows consumers and activists access to these companies, more so than traditional modes of advertising media (754), such as television or physical advertisements. Customers can better “demand authenticity of information” (751) when they are able to comment on posts and call out businesses on their social media platforms.
Not only has social media itself become an asset to flagging greenwashing, but the GreenWashing Index website once allowed users to post advertisements from their social media which promote a business’s sustainable efforts; others then could rate the advertisements and comment on their validity. The website allowed social media users to become whistleblowers on ads that pop up on their Facebook, Instagram, etc. Unfortunately, the company that designed the index no longer exits. Lyon and Montgomery go on to include with their research, “This improved access to information increases the risks faced by companies when they communicate selectively about their environmental performance and makes them less likely to greenwash” (752). Firms with strong environmental reputations thrive on social media because skepticism usually does not plague their sites, but this conversely has driven companies with questionable and little sustainable focus to steer away from social media. Essentially, the greenest companies face the least risk of having a social media presence.
This is all to say, social media and the internet have become a growing space for green businesses and influencers to get their products and messages out to the public. Nyilasy and Gangadharbatla’s study in How to reach green consumers on the internet? Digital and social media strategies for addressing the environmentally-conscious concluded that “green consumption is strongly correlated with Internet usage” (1). Their study looked into the broad digital and then more specific social media usage of green consumers, finding that when it came to different types of media, social media’s more informative capabilities allow for the dissemination of environmental issues, while traditional forms of media are more rooted in pathos and do not have the ease of accessibility to e-commerce (5). The greater green consumers showed an overall larger increase in media consumption in comparison to the lower green consumption groups, revealing social media’s role in promoting green consumerism. The authors conjectured that this has to do with the “badge value” connected with green consumption (17), or the social brag that comes with caring about a cause. This study revealed that there is an important connection between social media usage and green consumption, and that their correlation may be due to the underlying societal currency when consumers post and promote sustainable products.
Kristie Byrum in ‘Hey Friend, Buy Green’: Social Media Use to Influence Eco-Purchasing Involvement recognizes the social benefits of consumers who participate with green businesses, creating a status around “going green”. However green consumerism may play into certain social statuses, when this green consumerism is shared on social media platforms, it promotes a green, sustainable lifestyle to others. Social media allows for consumers to influence others to purchase green: “By nature of the interaction available through social media, consumers undertake a more active role in communication, conducting word of mouth online and engaging with the company, and other consumers in compelling and persuasive ways” (212). This active role creates an online community space where going green and activism becomes something to strive for, a social badge that could possibly be inherently selfish but nonetheless helps the planet.
The ability of a business to foster a community on social media is what blew up companies like AllBirds and FinalStraw. In New business Set up for Branding Strategies on Social Media—Instagram, the authors mention “brand community” and highlight its relevance in developing followership on Instagram, as this community brings together people with a shared interest in the brand and leads to “a subculture around the brand with its own values, myths, hierarchy, rituals and vocabulary” (15). People creating videos about “saving the sea turtles” while using their FinalStraw built up hype around the product and created an online community around the business. AllBirds has been noted for its consumer community on Instagram: “Most brands look at social platforms like Instagram to push out product messages, but Allbirds is using Instagram for product ideas and customer feedback”. The Vice President of Marketing, Julie Channing, said that AllBirds “has changed content strategies based on its followers’ reactions.” The brand was even in Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends 2017 report as one of the most responsive brands. The photo below is in AllBirds highlights, exhibiting their use of Instagram to directly ask consumers what they want to see from the product and company.
Consumer empowerment is also the ability of digital advertising to “by-pass consumer resistance and skepticism by giving the consumer an active role in the advertising process” (Hudders, van Reijmersdal and Poels). Consumers are involved in the process of developing and building a brand through their own feelings of empowerment to comment, share, create content, and promote companies. As a result, the distance between businesses and consumers has decreased with these participatory modes of comments, sharing, and hashtags. Branches of connections can be made on Instagram by simply tagging a company on a story highlighting the product.
The ways in which businesses utilize their Instagram platforms also influence how these communities are created. Del Rowe’s Disappearing Content is Marketing Magic addresses how disappearing content on Instagram stories allows for exclusivity and immediacy for consumers. These real-time posts allow for new methods of brand community building through visual elements, brand excitement, or interactive questions and polls. The article also mentioned the value of speaking to audiences by sharing Instagram stories that give inside access to a company’s inner workings which bridge the gap between labor and consumers.
Another aspect of creating a community around business and sustainability is the influencer. “Digital natives” who grew up in a digitally interconnected world are developing business and communication skills on these platforms (Coll and Mico 88). Within businesses, especially startups, “growth hackers” is a new term whose goal is to be creative with media so as to not spend capital on traditional marketing campaigns (89). Often these “growth hackers” look to influencers to generate growth. Influencer marketing also includes those “micro-influencers” who are just average Instagram users who are now considered apart of communications strategies as they also share their favorite products with their followers or comment on a business’s Instagram. Influencers have become a part of brand marketing. Intellifluence is a marketing service specifically designed to connect green business to green influencers. Influencers will receive free products or cash in return for their review, while businesses get exposure on media platforms.
Below are some examples of the Instagram posts from influencers who are clearly promoting products by featuring them in their posts, @-ing the Instagram page, using hashtags, and explaining why they enjoy the products and how it is sustainable.
Some green influencers have even started their own businesses, completely amalgamating eco-consciousness, influencer marketing, and green products into one account. Laura Singer, @trashisfortosssers, created her own sustainable store: Package Free Shop. She also made Forbes 30 Under 30 – Social Entrepreneurs 2020 list. Amber Boyers, @theconsciouscut, created a sustainable swim brand: Baiia. Below you can see the two women’s Instagrams and their locations, comments, and hashtags as relating to green living and how their lifestyle and business reflects this.
Business and influencers have been able to feed off of and bolster sustainable causes on Instagram, creating a space within Instagram for an eco-consciousness community to grow, utilizing social media marketing to draw in like-minded people to buy like-minded products. Technology has often been equated with impersonal communication and superficial relationships, but Instagram has allowed for the formation of communities to develop around environmental awareness and green consumerism. #gogreen
Bryum, Kristie“‘Hey Friend, Buy Green’: Social Media Use to Influence Eco-Purchasing Involvement.” Environmental Communication, vol. 13., no. 2, Nov. 2019, pp. 209-221, https://doi.org/10.1080/17524032.2017.1308404
Coll, Patricia and Josep Lluis Mico. “Influencer Marketing in the Growth Hacking strategy of digital brands.” Observatorio Journal, vol. 13, no. 2, 2019, pp. 87-105. OberCom, http://obs.obercom.pt/index.php/obs/article/view/1409
Del Rowe, Sam. “Disappearing Content is Marketing Magic: Platforms like Instagram Stories and Snapchat allow marketers to reach new audiences.” CRM Magazine, vol. 22, no. 2, Mar. 2018, pp. 34-37. EBSCOhost.
Hudders, Liselot, et al. “Digital Advertising and Consumer Empowerment.” Cyberpsychology, vol. 13, no. 2, June 2019, pp. 1–7. EBSCOhost.
Latiff, Zulkifli Abd. and Nur Ayuni Safira Safiee. “New business Set up for Branding Strategies on Social Media – Instagram.” Procedia Computer Science, vol. 72, 2015, pp. 13-23. ScienceDirect.
Lyon, Thomas P., and A. Wren Montgomery. “Tweetjacked: The Impact of Social Media on Corporate Greenwash.” Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 118, no. 4, 2013, pp. 747–757. JSTOR.
Nyilasy, Gergely and Harsha Gangadharbatla. “How to reach green consumers on the internet? Digital and social media strategies for addressing the environmentally conscious”. 2016 American Academy of Advertising Conference, March 2016, Seattle, WA. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/286279151_How_to_reach_green_consumers_on_the_internet_Digital_and_social_media_strategies_for_addressing_the_environmentally_conscious