We’ve heard about celebrity macro and micro influencers. And now, cultural influencers? When boxer Muhammad Ali refused to be inducted into the Army on April 28, 1967 because of his opposition to the war in Vietnam, he became one of the first cultural influencers before the introduction of social media as we know it today.
Former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick first gained attention on August 14, 2016 when he sat instead of standing for the national anthem in protest against police brutality and to demonstrate support for people of color whom he said were being oppressed by the government. He subsequently kneeled instead of standing and was eventually joined by more than 200 other athletes across the U.S..
Since then, other athletes and celebrities have taken public stands on issues like LGBTQ and other excluded communities. They’re cultural influencers who are using their platforms to let others know about their feelings and positions and hopefully ignite meaningful dialogue for the betterment of the country or sport.
The Frye Festival, which launched in 2000 in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada as a literary event even expanded to include documentaries and one of its highlights were Hulu and Netflix documentaries focusing on cultural awareness.
IMPACT OF CULTURAL INFLUENCERS
The nonprofit social justice communication research lab, Opportunity Agenda, reported that three of their case studies revealed significant increases in media attention and focus to issues raised by cultural influencers. As an example, the organization said media coverage of police misconduct nearly doubled and that social media engagement has almost tripled since Kaepernick’s stand.
By 2018, the NFL and many players formed Let’s Listen Together, a collaborative effort to improve community and police relations after which ten teams organized coalitions to discuss and tackle social justice issues. Movements like Me Too and Black Lives Matter appear to have also benefited as well from this heightened awareness.
Entertainers like Jimmy Kimmel have used their platform to advocate. On May 1, 2017,after publicly describing his newborn son’s battle with congenital heart disease and criticizing the Graham-Cassidy bill that would have repealed Obamacare, several GOP senators also spoke out against it and the bill was never brought to a vote. Kimmel even went so far as to ask his audience to call their congressional delegations to express their opposition.
Opportunity Agenda said that after actress Alyssa Milano jumped into the controversies surrounding allegations of sexual assault against Bill O’Reilly and Harvey Weinstein on October 15, 2017, online conversations about the topic mushroomed. The organization reported that posts about sexual assault rose from 11 million then to more than 31 million over the next year.
WORKING WITH CULTURAL INFLUENCERS
Brands considering working with cultural influencers need to consider several things. These include identifying and working with influencers who are considered experts on the issue, partnering with organizations that share the same concern, and focusing the brand’s communication with consumers with the values that are at stake.
Corporations also are being lobbied to have their own cultural influencers. The Association of Corporate Counsel recently began a push to encourage more companies to have their general counsel report directly to the CEO and expand his/her duties to include such things as ethics and reputation management as they relate to the company’s culture.