The social media secret behind changing consumer behavior

The majority of consumers say they are ready to make lifestyle changes to fight climate change, and more people than ever are turning to social media for information about sustainability. A new study commissioned by Unilever shows that influencers have the greatest impact on consumers’ sustainability-related decisions, ahead of documentaries, news articles and government campaigns. In fact, 83 percent of all consumers believe TikTok and Instagram are helpful places to look for information about sustainability, and 75 percent are more likely to add sustainable behaviors to their lifestyle after viewing social media content about sustainability.

Unilever also specifically examined the effectiveness of different content styles in stimulating consumer behavior around plastic use and food waste, comparing pragmatic and explanatory content to more upbeat and humorous posts.

While the study found that both styles were effective in changing consumer behavior, 69 percent of people who watched the more pragmatic content made lifestyle changes, compared to 61 percent of those who watched the more upbeat, humorous content. Branded content was seen as equally engaging and authentic as unbranded content.

‚ÄúPeople find it difficult to make sustainable decisions due to a lack of simple, immediate and trustworthy information. Our goal is to continue working with our partners to improve the sustainability content produced by our brands and to support the creators we work with,” said Conny Braams, Unilever’s chief digital and commercial officer, in a statement.

Leverage social media to drive consumer behavior change

Unilever has partnered with the Behavioral Insights team and 10 sustainability influencers to create content aimed at convincing consumers to use less plastic and waste less food. Unilever then showed the content to 6,000 social media users in the UK, US and Canada.

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Three in four respondents said the content made them more likely to engage in suggested sustainable behaviors, particularly reusing plastic, buying refillable products, and freezing and reusing leftovers. In addition, 72 percent of participants supported companies that sold them more sustainable products and services.

“This study is a world first of its kind and the largest controlled study online to test the impact of different types of social media content,” said David Halpern, chief executive of the Behavioral Insights team, in a statement. “The behavioral change potential of social media is clear, and the results show that there is tremendous opportunity — creating fertile ground for further exploration in this space.” Over 75 percent of respondents said they support content creators in using their Encourage audiences to behave more sustainably.

More social change is needed to avert the climate catastrophe

Unilever’s study found that social media is a powerful tool to bring about lasting change in consumer behavior. However, today’s world of social media is more often used to increase spending habits and consumption levels, which are the main obstacles in the fight against climate change.

To effectively use their platforms to drive sustainable behaviors, brands and influencers need to encourage individual action and social change. Unilever uses the results of the new study to support its sustainability message.

“What we’re hearing from consumers is that living sustainably is a constant, overwhelming effort and many feel, ‘What I do doesn’t count anyway,'” Braams noted. However, armed with the findings of the new study, Unilever aims to support content creators and improve their sustainability content to drive better individual actions across their consumer base.

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“Together we’re learning what everyone likes and no action versus content that makes sustainable choices easy and preferred,” she said. Instead of contracting with influencers to encourage their viewers to buy and consume, companies can accelerate individual change by communicating with their audience simple ways to make better environmental choices.

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