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Renee Farris headshot

How to Rock the Pants Off Social Media for Climate Change


Editor’s Note: This post is part of TriplePundit’s ongoing coverage of SXSW Eco 2015. You can read all of our coverage here.

Sustainability has an image problem. It’s big, scary and boring. People feel powerless and disconnected. Most stories about the environment deal with facts, figures and scientific terminology. It all feels a little bit over people’s heads. They feel a little lost. Instead of dealing with numbers and science, we need to tell stories about people and values.

We talk about melting ice caps and drowning polar bears, but people are missing from the conversation. To add to the confusion, we don’t really know what we’re supposed to do about it. We’re told to recycle, use less electricity and carry our groceries in reusable bags. But taking these actions isn’t enough to counteract the large-scale environmental damage being done. Also, they’re boring. All of this makes the topic of sustainability uncomfortable, and we feel guilty about it so we avoid it.

What’s missing from the conversation is why sustainability is relevant to people and their values. We’re not doing a good job connecting them to the issues personally. It’s a hard job. Connecting with solar panels and wind turbines doesn’t come naturally.

When we don’t meet people on their terms and talk about what is important to them, we make it too easy for people to dismiss climate change. One survey showed that only a third of people remembered having a conversation about climate change. And more than 65 percent of people said they have only discussed the topic with close friends or family. What can we do to make this a more popular topic of conversation?

This was all part of a discussion at the SXSW Eco session on meme’ifying climate change. The talk was led by Sarah Stern and Iris Andrews from Here Now and Jessica Lauretti and Hannah Kreiswirth from Purpose. Here's what they said we can do to create rockin’ social media campaigns.

1. Better understand the steps that lead to people sharing

The content you want people to share must have high social currency. In other words, people share what makes them look good. Think about the ice bucket challenge. People tagged their friends, and you looked bad if you didn’t do it. If you did the challenge, you also aligned yourself with all the cool celebrities who were doing it. It made you look good. That’s high social media currency.

People also share content that impact them emotionally. If something makes you laugh really hard, shocks you or breaks your heart, you’re likely to share it. Life hacks and how to do stuff also make for popular content. We share content that we think might be useful to our friends.

Most of all, we share what is popular. If the people in our community do something, especially people we respect, we feel pressure to imitate them. Take the Celebrate Pride Facebook profile filter, for example.

2. Entertain people first to make a message memorable

This is true for all marketing. Put entertainment first, and watch your post grow wings and take off. For example, the metro in Australia wanted to inform people about rail safety and created a video about Dumb Ways to Die. It has over 113 million YouTube views and innumerable parodies have been made of it.

Solar FREAKIN’ Roadways found a hilarious way to market solar roads, a topic that could have been a bust if it had been framed as a geeky presentation with stats. Luckily for the company, its marketing team got their freak on and made a YouTube video that received over 20 million views, proving once again that people share eco-friendly content when they think it’s funny or awe inspiring. Making it funny is a good entry point for people who are drawn to the humor and not necessarily the social impact. Humor is also a great way to get people to remember your message.

3. Leverage unexpected, authentic messengers to depoliticize the message

Enough already with the old white men with lots of money telling people to care about the environment. The majority of people to whom this issue matters don’t look like this. So who should our messengers be? Try to get diverse influencers who already have a large following. Integrate yourself into every aspect of a person’s life. Look for different ways to connect with people with various levels of eco interest. And definitely partner with a community that already exists rather than start a new one; it’s much faster.

Enlist the YouTube famous Smosh Brothers. Or a popular dog. When Purpose and Here Now created a #ClimateChangeIsReal campaign, they partnered with Marnie, a Shih Tzu. The dog has 1.8 million followers on Instagram, 109,000 Twitter followers and almost 400,000 Facebook fans. When you look to messengers besides people like Al Gore, it helps depoliticize your message. It also helps people connect your message with people or communities they already care about. It makes your message relatable and memorable.

4. Respond to what’s current

Greenpeace played off the Lego video to create a campaign asking Lego to end its partnership with Shell. The organization's highly creative parody of Lego’s movie received almost 7.5 million views on YouTube alone. A link below the video prompted users to sign a petition. And it worked! Lego announced it would not renew its contract with Shell.

You can engage fan groups of "Game of Thrones" or "Harry Potter" or any pop culture icon, by adding those elements into your message. People who share those posts on social media might never put a save the world petition on their Facebook wall, but they will post a creative and intriguing video about Lego people drowning in oil. Using pop culture in your messaging is a entryway for people to care about the environment. Think of it as a potential gateway drug: When your message is playful and human, it opens people up to discuss the topic.

Once we nail down how we frame our messaging, social impact is going to seem fun, relevant and exciting. It will be popular and there will be serious social pressure to join the eco conscious lifestyle upgrade. People will want to help make the world a better place.

Image credits: Purpose and Here Now, used with permission

Renee Farris headshotRenee Farris

Renee is a social impact strategist who works with companies to help them focus on key social and environmental opportunities. She loves connecting with people so feel free to contact her at renee.a.farris@gmail.com.

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