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Influencers Brand Strategy Social Media

Does influencer marketing have a sustainability problem?

By Emily Hall, Senior Campaign Director

The Goat Agency


The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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February 20, 2023 | 7 min read

Emily Hall of influencer shop The Goat Agency looks into growing disquiet about the sustainability of the channel’s best-established strategies.

Someone in a hat taking a selfie in nature

Influencer marketing has been criticized for wasteful gifting practices - is it time to pivot? / Djamal Akhmad Fahmi via Unsplash

In recent months, several brands have faced backlash over their influencer marketing campaigns (just look at Tarte’s Dubai trip). And while much of the criticism has been focused on the appropriateness of such luxurious trips in our current economy, there’s also concern over their environmental impact.

So does influencer marketing have a sustainability problem? And, if it does, how can we fix it?

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Is influencer marketing a sustainable industry?

There’s undeniably a challenge to face: influencer marketing does rely on activities that can be unsustainable, like providing products for reviews and hosting launch events.

But the channel has evolved so much; there are now a lot of ways for brands to use these same tactics in more sustainable, environmentally conscious ways.

TikTok’s ‘de-influencing’ movement

A recent trend that brands should take note of is the rise of ‘de-influencing’; where creators recommend the products they don’t think you should buy. The movement’s hashtag has over 50m views, with thousands of TikTokers speaking out against what they see as over-hyped products, typically within the beauty space.

The movement is an attempt to encourage social media users to be more considered with their purchases. It shows just how much sustainability and overconsumption are at the forefront of consumer consciousness.

#Gifting and the problem with packaging

Gifting products is one of the most common methods for promoting branded items online, and #unboxing videos are hugely popular on social media. The focus has long been on putting on a show for large audiences on social media, so what we end up with is brands sending out large quantities of items, packaged extravagantly, designed to cause a stir through an Instagram story or two.

These packaged items are guilty of piling up waste material. We see this a lot in the cosmetics space, with beauty brands shipping out hundreds of parcels each week that aren’t made for reuse.

But times are changing. Consumers are beginning to expect more from the brands and influencers they follow.

Some influencers will reach out to say that they do not want to receive gifted items but get lumped with them anyway. This is built on an outdated formula of brands sending gifted items to all influencers within their database. Thankfully, we’re seeing the selection process become more refined to ensure that influencers are happy to receive items, avoiding wastage and unnecessary mailouts.

In unboxing as well as gifting, there has been an enormous shift in behavior. Creators on TikTok, a predominantly gen Z platform, have been calling out brands for sending gifts that are more packaging than product. PR and marketing teams need to be mindful of this. Think about whether there are more creative ways you could gift a new product launch to influencers that don’t include a fancy box.

What else can be done?

First, be considered. For brands looking to step up their sustainability measures, invest in sustainable packaging, seek to partner with domestic talent wherever possible, and encourage creators to seek out more sustainable travel options like public transport. Shipping out hundreds of items to influencers is becoming increasingly outdated; instead, it’s about being careful and targeted with your influencer selection process, and pinpointing areas you can dial back on.

Second, be creative. While brands should be looking to strip back their gifting and shipping methods where possible, the more effective method would be to take advantage of new-age digital mediums, like AR and hashtag challenges. Harnessing the power of participation can ramp up sustainability while engaging audiences on social media more effectively.

And third, be selective. At Goat, our responsibility is to surpass our client’s needs while delivering campaigns that adhere to social and environmental expectations. To nudge brands in a greener direction, we actively steer clients (irrespective of industry) away from social activities that involve mass gifting or excessive travel.

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Instead, we make gifting work harder by running tailored programs alongside our main campaigns to ensure that each influencer is the right fit to partner with our brands. These influencers receive personalized gifts and are given trackable links through affiliate sites to encourage them to post. Because these influencer relationships are built on trust, they’ll deliver higher-quality creative and can be relied upon to report back on results.

Brands and agencies are starting to move toward more effective and efficient methods in their influencer marketing. Are the Tarte-esque trips dead? Not necessarily. There’s still a place for these things; it’s just about ensuring that they’re done in the right way.

Influencers Brand Strategy Social Media

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The Goat Agency

We’re the leading global social media marketing agency powered by influencers. We pride ourselves in bringing together data-led performance, real human relationships,...

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