Interview: Emma Voller, Digital Media Executive for The Plastiki

By Carla Rover

The Plastiki’s journey is significant on multiple levels. The most salient, I believe, is how Adventure Ecology managed to create a global groundswell of interest through social media. Emma Voller, The Plastiki’s Digital Media Executive spoke with me about how social media became an active part of The Plastiki’s message.

1. How do you see social media- as it continually evolves- affecting the reach and efficacy of environmental awareness campaigns?

When you are talking to people about environmental topics you are often touching upon a very personal and passionate emotion, which is why social networks are a perfect medium to start these conversations. Environmental awareness is also largely centered around groups and collectives – at the Plastiki we certainly have the view that no one person is as smart as everyone – so harnessing the power and inspiration of a group goes much farther than that of an individual. Making environmental campaigns perfectly suited to the collaborative nature of the social media platform, and as this media grows we will only see further innovations in how we can connect, share and promote on an environmental level.

2. How has social media affected the ability of organizations, like Adventure Ecology, to reach “Millennials”?

Social media gives you the opportunity to connect with people via a platform that is very much a part of their daily lives, the Millennial generation spend a lot of their online time on networks such as Facebook and Flickr. So by being on these sites we can start a conversation on their turf, rather than expecting them to come visit our own website. You can see a lot of the big brands moving away from ‘destination’ websites, such as Coca Cola who recently slashed budgets in this area, and are instead building up their presence in social networks.

Conversation is also key, its not about us just pumping out our own message, we want to hear what our audience has to say; which social media is perfect for, and it is this sort of two way engagement that attracts a wider audience particularly the “Millennial” generation.

3. How will social media impact the efficacy of green organizations like Adventure Ecology (AE), in getting the message out, maintaining “brand” awareness and engaging target demographics?

Social media is the perfect medium to create meaningful and lasting two way conversations. Through interacting in this way you are transforming your “eco” message from a top down ‘preach’ to an interactive discussion where questions can be asked and answered from both sides, which is much more beneficial in solving problems and working out alternative courses of action.

By involving an active audience you are moving eco-awareness beyond that of just a short lived trend and into a life long altering of attitudes. Through sharing ideas and reactions you are producing an ever evolving conversation that will outlive the eco-chic fad. However, it is important to appreciate that flooding your audience with the same message can cause complacency or eco-fatigue and lead to a ‘deaf audience’ of people who feel it is perhaps a hopeless cause or not something they can personally impact. This is where we have been careful to focus on the positive actions people have already and can continue to make, and engage people in a conversation of change. It’s other people’s stories that we find particularly inspiring, after all that is why we undertake these expeditions – to highlight these environmental challenges and create positive daily actions within our audience thus making a positive impact upon the natural world.

4. What is the Plastiki’s social media legacy- in other words, what can we glean from the way AE used social media?

We would hope that our use of these ‘free’ tools could help inspire other small or low-budget schemes to promote their message and engage their audience in this way. For our small team our social network activities have formed the core of our online messaging and gives us a platform for our message that maybe 3 years ago we would not have had. There is a huge network of environmental and ocean based organizations making fantastic use of social media and the inspiration is endless, it’s also great to see audiences overlapping and these organizations cross-promoting to help widen the net for their messages. After all, the end goal for most of these groups is the same, to help positively impact our environment, so why not work together.

6. How has the journey altered  / enhanced  AE’s view of social media’s importance?

Well we were lucky enough to have some great technology and communications partners such as HP and Inmarsat, so that provided the infrastructure we needed to get the message out there from the middle of the pacific. I don’t think even the Plastiki crew realised how much contact they would have with us, the shore team!

We’ve had messages and questions from all over the world, from Zambia to Bosnia Herzegovina, and social media really was the tool that helped us connect with such a wide audience. The contact we had with our audience was a really important drive for the crew and the shore team, and was a great support for the crew; stuck out in the middle of the pacific they knew they were reaching people and hopefully making a difference. Social media transforms a message that could reach a very small core audience and turns it into a global topic of conversation – it brings home the phrase ‘small world’.

I also really think the Plastiki, the actual vessel, is at the heart of our content, for 4 years it was all we had – we didn’t have a crew, our route was constantly changing, all we had was this stead fast vision of a boat made from plastic bottles. It’s the key starting point and was quite literally our message in a bottle. From here we began to grow the story and expand our content, from people suggesting their recipes to sharing pirate jokes with us – we tried to engage people in much more than just the environmental aspect.

We tried to build upon the great characters we had on the boat, their personal experiences, and created a lot of visual content to help drive forward the message, I think the personal experiences of the crew members helped make the expedition so engaging to follow. It was something we could all relate too, we are all trying to do our bit to change our attitudes to waste and the environment.

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