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Companies are uniquely positioned to drive change around social norms by using their brand credibility, marketing expertise, reach, and access to key influencers, among other assets. Companies can create significant, lasting social change by shifting harmful social norms.
But why should companies invest in changing social norms, and what are the practical steps to starting this process?
Drew Bernard is the founder and CEO of ActionSprout, a company that helps causes better utilize Facebook to accomplish mission objectives. He discussed how Facebook and UNICEF partnered to gather anonymized data from the platform to drive a more effective response to the Zika outbreak in Brazil. Through available Facebook data, ActionSprout surfaced insights about the audience that was spreading information about Zika. They also looked at the content that this audience viewed as most valuable to share with friends and family members.
ActionSprout was able to identify key influencers that UNICEF’s target audience followed and trusted. UNICEF then used these insights to tailor and target messaging to reach the audience at greatest risk of Zika and their influencers, who used the content to help their loved ones protect themselves from Zika. Eighty-two percent of Brazilians who were exposed to the data-informed content on Facebook reported that they intended to take action to protect themselves and their loved ones from Zika—a 3 percent increase over people who were not exposed to the content.
Social norms are complex and challenging to identify and change. Actors in the international development field are increasingly recognizing the important role that social norms play in driving poor health, education and economic outcomes, especially for disadvantaged groups. Companies have a rich toolset to help address harmful social norms, and we appreciated learning how leading companies like Novo Nordisk and ABInBev are taking a social norms lens to their work during the Shared Value Summit. This is an emerging field of practice and we are interested in learning from and sharing examples of other companies engaged in this work.