Environmental professionals, especially in the public sector, need to get better at utilizing social media as part of their work. The following post explains why, and gives you a few ready-to-use pointers to take you that extra mile.
The green field is missing out and falling behind
I keep coming back to this subject, simply because it’s important.
As someone who lives on the internet, it pains me to time and time again see amazing products and organizations miss their audience because they don’t know how to navigate social media and behavioral change strategies.
It’s the reason I switched from working as an environmental planner to working as a copywriter. There are so many passionate professionals out there who get up every day and work themselves to the bones to make the world a better place.
But I saw them struggling with reaching their goals and falling behind in terms of communication. Often the “script” of a communication campaign would follow the same script as the ones I remember from my childhood.
Use less energy, save water and do it for future generations.
These campaigns are heavy on facts and appeal to the better nature in. They ask us to make better choices, and basically be better humans. The problem is, they don’t work.
I came across these campaigns all the time and was frustrated out of my skull. Why? Because I knew that only a few tips and tricks could help them make an enormous difference.
I wanted to give professionals in the green industry the tools they needed to make those changes happen. After a few years of frustration, I switched carrier path. I now work full-time writing copy for websites, newsletters, and social media. I also teach these techniques to my clients, so they don’t have to depend on me.
Social media is no longer an online identity – it is part of your identity.
If you’re not online, you don’t exist.
The green industry is no different.
You don’t have to beat your green competitors!
The beauty of the environmental sector is, you don’t with other green organizations or products. If done right, information campaigns promoting behavioral change, do not compete with other behavioral change campaigns. You are not a soft drink, trying to outmaneuver other soft drinks.
We need all hands on deck to make the world a more sustainable place. Luckily, the communication strategies that work for pro-environmental behavior are so good you don’t have to fight other companies in a green arena. Your success does not mean another green organization has to fail.
But you still need to work hard and stay visible, so you don’t lose ground to non-sustainable solutions.
Bringing the green sector into the age of the internet — and social media
Being a kid in the 80’s and 90’s I remember the marketing slogan: Sex sells.
Selling climate change prevention and mitigation as sexy is hard, and a rather inept thing to do. You would never promote 3rd world aid as sexy, it’s insensitive and very inappropriate. Good news! Sex isn’t the only sales tool anymore.
For the last decade describing an ad as sexy has referred less to the physical cleavages and abs of the 80’s and 90’s and more to a sense of ‘Shiny’.
So does the environmental sector need to get shiny?
Yes and no. The world is a very different place than it was just ten years ago. In the world of marketing, this manifests itself in the way that authenticity sells more than sparkles.
I repeat: Authenticity sells
WOOP WOOP! This is great news for the environmental sector as it is if full of passionate and inspiring, authentic individuals. The bad news is these individuals usually don’t feel comfortable navigating the social media jungle. Often, they even to downplay their media presence on purpose.
The WHY, the passion, and the story
Authenticity is scary and daunting, and if you —like me— remember a time before the internet you probably don’t have an urge to create a youtube channel, or write about your innermost secret online.
But this is what vast parts of the internet is now. Liza Koshy, an internet celebrity with over 40 million online followers, announced her breakup with fellow youtube celebrity David Dobrik via a youtube video. I dare you to watch and not get something in your eye.
You might be thinking, yeah well, all of these people are going to regret plastering the internet like this. But this is the equivalent of my older generations telling my peers and me, that we would regret spending so much time playing video games. We didn’t. In fact, we all have great memories of those games and it shaped who we became as individuals, and as a culture. To spell it out:
Being vulnerable and authentic online isn’t something we’re going to regret. It’s the new normal.
Is scary, it’s new, and it feels like it goes against everything you know. But you need to show more of yourself and your values if you want to create trust.
Your audience what to know ‘Why’ you are doing what you are doing. Why are you selling biodegradable cutlery, why are you working to prevent deforestation, and in my case why are you writing about behavioral change online instead of having a normal 9-5? That also why the ‘About’ page on your website is crucial to your business.
So does this mean that you should get rid of your filter and just show the gritty you? No. Youtube videos are edited, Instagram pictures are selected from a batch of 10 different shots and have filters.
And the mother of social media, Facebook, is always showing you the brightest moments of the day — Not the moment where you realize you’ve had something green stuck in your teeth for the entire team meeting.
Social Media is more like a first date. It’s an honest representation of you, but you make an effort to look nice. You pick out a nice outfit, you groom yourself, and you show an interest in the other person. It’s still you, but it’s a very presentable side of you.
If you, on the other hand, show up to a first date in your Sunday jammies you’re placing yourself in the back of the field.
It’s the same thing with social media. You show off your best features while remaining honest. Hopefully, this (virtual) date, will lead to a lasting connection between you, and your audience.
But I’m too busy making the world better – I don’t have time for updates
This is the pitfall for most people in the green sector. They work tirelessly to improve the state of the world. Taking time to post about in on Facebook, or take a picture for Instagram, seems like time wasted.
I get it, I’m the same.
You would rather be doing your job than tweeting about your job.
But the world has changed a lot, and social media is a crucial element for success. It doesn’t matter if you’re selling eco-friendly swimwear or building drought protection in Africa, get online!
One solution is to hire someone to do it for you. If this is not an option for you right now, keep reading to get hands-on advice. Don’t worry, I’m right here with you, and we’ll take it slow.
Going back to the dating analogy, you might feel nervous about putting yourself out there. You want everything to be perfect before you start. Forget about it.
Like I said authenticity sells. There is no such thing as the perfect social media campaign or perfect strategy. But there are a few rules of thumbs.
One of them is simply knowing how your target audience act on the internet, and what the trends are.
Memes, emojis, and fads – know your audience
The first time I used Snap(chat) as a verb, I got mad street cred from my stepdaughter while her dad stared blankly from the other side of the table and asked: ‘what’?
If you have kids, you’ll know that they are on top of fashion and trends in a way that’s hard for you to comprehend. If you are trying to change the behavior of teenagers, you need a campaign that targets — and a lot of patience.
But even if you are targeting adults, you need to be aware of the unique language that makes up the internet.
The web is built on jokes and references that people know and cherish. Some are obvious, and some are not. Having success on social media requires you to understand what memes, and emojis your audience likes. Just like you need to know how your audience acts on the internet.
How the internet works — Lessons from Tesla
Regardless of what you think of Tesla, they know how the internet works.
In 2014, which is almost generations ago in internet time, Tesla released all their patents in the hope of pushing the global EV production further.
It was, as the CEO Elon Musk put it, in the spirit of the open source movement, which was sweeping the internet at the time. But more importantly, the news took the internet with storm when Tesla paired it with the words:
If you were not a citizen of the internet at the time, this looked like an awkward spelling error. Embarrassing, right? Nope. It was, in fact, a stroke of genius.
It references the meme All Your Base Are Belong to Us, which is a classical internet meme.
By choosing this headline, anyone who was in on the joke was likely to share the news, and help give it a viral life on the web, instead of “just” a news story about a car manufacturer who for some reason was giving away all their secrets.
In fact, Musk has a long history of working the internet to mainstream knowledge about new technologies, like appearing on the Wait but why blog, and latest introducing flamethrowers and cyborg dragons.
Why it worked — Building trust
Using memes and internet slang that your audience uses, is equivalent to showing them, that you speak the same language as them – You are on their team. It feeds into a culture and therefore a sense of belonging. It very simply builds trust and rapport.
I’ve heard green professionals protest to this approach with the question: But isn’t that manipulation?
You can answer that better than me: Are you manipulating people when you are having a conversation with them, in their native language?
Striped of body language and why to use emojis — Get social
Speaking in a mutual language shows the person you’re talking to, that you understand them, and share their values. The same rule applies on the web.
It’s something most of us do per default when meeting new people. We tend to find subjects we have in common, and even start to copy each others body language. This is a natural part of human communications. The reason it feels weird on social media is because it’s happening on a new platform.
The internet still feels like something different from “normal” human behavior. But, understand that the line between “normal human behavior” and internet behavior, are getting blurrier by the day.
Showing someone that you are part of their culture is called mirroring. Well known in social psychology, mirroring is the act of copying each others body language, either consciously or subconsciously.
If you want to see this effect in full action, find a couple who is on their first date. Watch how they tend to sip their water at the same time, straighten their back in the same way, and so on.
On the internet, you don’t have the luxury of using body language to communicate. This is part of the reason why emojis and memes should be a natural part of your online presence.
There are many numbers floating around referring to how much of our communication is verbal, and how much is non-verbal. One of them is the 55-38-7 rule, also known as Albert Mehrabian’s rule. This is the belief is that 55% of communication is body language, 38% is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual spoken or written words. This rule has been much debated and to a high degree debunked, because of the uncertainty about the percentile.
To put it in another way, we know body language and tone of voice are dominant in communication, we just don’t know how much.
A world without Verbal communication
Verbal and Non-verbal communication complement each other and brings the message home faster. We can all relate to being a kid and hearing our mother say ‘come here.’
You know from the tone in her voice and the look in her eyes if you’re about to get a snuggle or a talking to.
But imagine if you only had the words to work with. You would have to go to your mom and ask follow-up questions to figure out what she wanted.
Without emojis and other communications tools (like brakes, quotation marks, exclamation marks, cursive and so on), the internet is an eternal struggle for our brain to figure out what the person on the other end is saying, and how their feeling.
Ever had an e-mail from a coworker where you’re not sure if they approve of your work, or hate it? If you’re like me, you’ll spend a fair amount of time thinking about what they mean, and how to reply. If it had been a face-to-face conversation, instead of e-mail, you would know for sure.
Unfortunately, the busier we are, the more inclined we are to leave out the little ‘good job’ or happy emoji at the end of the e-mail, because we default to writing the way we speak, not remembering that we also speak with our body’s.
Wow, that was a lot of information. Well, I’m sorry to break it to you, but we’re still not done.
The internet is possibly the most powerful weapon in the history of mankind. Without going further into the negative sides like election manipulation, the spreading of fake news, and polarisation, the internet can be a tool for positive change.
In the next post, I break down how you can use the force of the web, to change the world.
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