Two studies of more than 700 students found that depressive symptoms, such as low mood and feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, were linked to the quality of online interactions. Another study conducted in 2016 found a threefold risk of depression and anxiety among people who used the most social media platforms. Social media has gotten a deservedly bad rap, but if we look a little deeper, could we actually find some good?

We know social media has become a reflection of how we want our friends, family, colleagues, and the world at large to see us. Humans have become brands and what we share and post is a part of our own brand identity. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that the brands that we share represent our values. And right now what we value are purpose-driven brands that are interested in more than just profit.

So The question is, has this desire fostered the growth and success of more brands that want to do better or is it the other way around? And does it really matter which way it happened? As a marketer—and a human—what feels very exciting is that a real shift is happening. The things that are really differentiating brands and build long-term relationships with consumers aren’t what brands are used to.

As we’ve become accustomed to vast amounts of information at our fingertips, we actively search for brands that address our desire to look a certain way- whether that is being socially responsible, ethical, committed to sustainability. Brands finally figured out that while they were talking about the constantly changing features and benefits, and prices, somewhere along the line consumers stopped listening. The forward-thinking brands are getting the message and talking about things that really matter, like the values and belief systems that they share with their consumers. These ideas connect consumers in ways that are more important, deeper, and long-lasting.

Panera has been actively increasing their good quality and making sure to tell the story behind it. Their story is about food preparation, ingredients, quality, and consistency. Panera shares a timeline of the progress they have made from 2004, raising chickens without antibiotics, to 2016, removing artificial sweeteners, preservatives, flavors, and colors from their menus. In 2017, they even complied with the menu and retail food labeling laws, despite legislative delays that pushed back deadlines. In differentiating themselves through radical transparency they created a deeper connection with their consumers.

Another exciting brand created on these new ideas is Everlane. Partnering with ethical factories and source sustainable materials, consumers learn where each product comes from, who works in the factory and Everlane’s connection to it all. Everlane also does something we’re just starting to see: they break down the true cost of every item for the customer, including the cost of materials, labor, duties, and transport. This level of transparency draws the consumer in because they want to buy clothes they feel good about. And they want to post pics of themselves wearing it, ultimately tagging Everlane so others can know they care about ethical production too.

And there’s great news for legacy brands as well. They don’t need to completely reinvent, but they can use the purpose/values lense when innovating. Legacy brand Adidas partnered with Parley to produce sneakers that have the advanced technology and performance design Adidas is known for, but they also help take pollution out of our oceans by making the sneakers out of recycled materials from the ocean. Adidas sold 1 million of these shoes last year and the effort is having an invaluable halo-effect on the rest of the brand.

So maybe social media has led us to new a level of transparency and commitment becoming the new brand equity. I believe the truth matters more to consumers than ever before, but it doesn’t have to be boring. Uncovering your most compelling truth and creating a meaningful narrative is hard work, but it’s the foundation for long-lasting consumer relationships. We can help.

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