At a recent event held by EFIA, members of the flexographic community identified that one of the major educational issues currently facing the packaging and print communities in the current sphere of sustainability is stemming the spread of misinformation. Delegates highlighted that as an industry, the packaging sector doesn’t use social media very well. This is true, and not just in terms of sustainability and waste.
The age of digital accountability is well and truly upon us, and all industries are feeling the effects. Transparency has become the watchword of modern business, enabled by social media platforms that make the transfer of information – accurate or otherwise – very quick. All it takes today is a quick hashtag search of a brand’s name to find a litany of unsolicited feedback, sometimes positive but more commonly negative.
B2B industries have historically been slow to adopt social media as a legitimate communications channel but are making progress. Packaging is no different. A large part of the drive has been the increase in industry members that are au fait with the technology. The millennial generation, those born between 1980 and 2000 are the first generation to be natively digital. They now make up a vast proportion of the workforce and are currently moving into executive level roles within manufacturing. This makes them the first generation of decision-makers and buyers that are inherently familiar with being sold-to on digital platforms. The difference is stark, and for many businesses that have operated in the retail sphere for a long time, it’s a steep learning curve. Research from intelligence agency Articulate shows that 84% of C-level and VP-level buyers are influenced by social media when making business purchase decisions. What’s more, the same research shows that 90% of all B2B companies currently trading in the UK are on LinkedIn.
This, in conjunction with the overall growth of social media use amongst all demographics, has pointed to a strong social media presence being vital for developing a trusted brand. This has created a fundamental shift in the paradigm of business, the result of which is social media marketing becoming a key influencer in B2B trade. On top of this, social media also plays a role in developing SEO performance for brand websites. Together, these benefits have been enough to stir the packaging industry into action.
The widespread development of social media for packaging converters comes in two distinct formats. The first is overall brand presence, which refers to corporate accounts using social media channels to distribute news and articles of interest to build brand awareness and continue establishing an identity for the business. The second is direct selling. Predominantly through LinkedIn but also accomplished through other channels, this refers to the personal one-to-one selling that would traditionally be done face-to-face.
One of the more pressing elements of social media culture is what’s becoming known as the ‘call-out’ culture. Often also referred to as ‘cancellation culture’, this describes the methods and behaviours of internet users – consumers and all – of deciding a brand’s values based on their actions. In essence, it is the judgement of a company’s Corporate Social Responsibility values, and as the packaging industry grows its presence online, it is a component of internet culture that the sector must manage.
Where brand operations do not align with the ‘common good’ values that consumers hold, buyers now enact boycotts to businesses they see as unethical, which can have serious impacts on the profitability of a business. In the dawn of the ‘Blue Planet Effect’ where the packaging sector is under the microscope, maintaining and promoting a healthy level of social responsibility is critical not just to individual businesses, but to the wider industry.
A turnkey moment for the print and packaging industry has been the regulation change of 2018 that required all businesses to reveal the extent of gender pay gaps. The World Economic Forum estimated in 2017 that at the current rate of change, it would take more than 200 years to achieve gender pay equality. The effect of the findings was felt across social media almost immediately. It’s clear that the packaging industry is moving towards closing the pay gap, but there is still much more work to be done.
As brands in the packaging supply chain find more agency and commercial opportunity in social media, they also open themselves up to criticism. In 2018, the first year that release of gender pay gap disparity was mandated, numerous businesses and chains found themselves at the centre of boycotts, driven by social media. This facet of call-out culture demands that all businesses, whether B2C or B2B, be held accountable. Perhaps the best quality of the social media age is that brands have a voice. Conversely, perhaps the worst quality is that they have to use it.
The golden rule of social media marketing is to remember that this is the customer’s space, you’re meeting them at a level they are comfortable with. To this end, the packaging industry’s slow adoption of social media has shielded it somewhat from the repercussions of call-out culture, but as the industry becomes more fluent in meeting consumers on their level, the industry as a whole will need to hold itself more accountable.
It is crucial that all players along the packaging supply chain begin to hold their policies and brand image to account. This means resolutely acknowledging the CSR challenges the industry faces, as well as taking the opportunity to listen. The packaging industry has long since held a disparity between men and women in terms of sheer numbers, and in executive positions, which makes it all the more important to publicise the changes and milestones that the sector reaches.
In summary, the packaging industry is becoming more comfortable with leveraging social media communications for brand equity. Part and parcel of that, however, is opening the business and indeed the industry to critique. In order to continue moving the conversation and the sector forward, businesses within the packaging supply chain must continue to visibly support the industry’s gender parity.
For businesses with a robust CSR strategy, the opportunities on the table are extremely attractive. Social media marketing works best when businesses harness it as a circular system of promotion, communication and engagement, and as the packaging industry moves towards making better use of the platform.
Those wishing to find out more about the Women in Packaging initiative can also contact the team via firstname.lastname@example.org.