How can environmental activists use social media? Part 2

A bird

Twitter, first generation. 

Environmentalist activists and major NGOs all spend a considerable amount of time on social media - as an immediate and direct connection to the public. But to what effect? ALESSIO PERRONE presents Part 2 of our three-instalment guide to getting your message across...

I was part of the team that raised over £500,000 in New Internationalist’s Community Share Offer. Before we produced content, some members of the team spent time to understand our readers.

“The biggest mistake we make when we create content is trying to make something for the general public,” says Richard Roaf, a filmmaker who specialises in viral videos, and runs the VideoRev project – which provides tools and training to make viral videos for social change.

Read Part 1 right here. 

This therefore, one more step before you create content: thinking about who will see it. Welcome to Part 2 of The Ecologist guide to social media...

2. Who is your audience?

Savvy social media users understand the people they want to reach: their interests, their worries and their hopes. Don’t despair: you don’t need market research or Cambridge Analytica tactics to find out a few things about them.

Tools like Facebook Insights and Google Analytics, together with looking up accounts similar to yours will already give you plenty of information.

How old is your audience? What people do they admire? Who else do they follow? What causes are they passionate about? What are their values and worldview? What do they hate?

Celebrity endorsements

It’s worth answering these on a piece of paper or document, as they will tell you a lot about the content you need to win them over. Importantly, they might also tell you where to find them. Instagram and Snapchat might be more popular than Facebook among under 30s, most UK journalists will be on Twitter, etc.

I was part of the team that raised over £500,000 in New Internationalist’s Community Share Offer. Before we produced content, some members of the team spent time to understand our readers.

The analysis drove decisions about our posts and about the celebrity endorsements we wanted. It also told us our readers would probably not be on Instagram or Snapchat. Some may be on Twitter, but most would be on Facebook – so we focused on it.

3. Tips for your content

Successful posts are short, clear and compelling. They tap into your audience’s values and give them a sense of empowerment.

“People are really busy, Facebook says they spend on average about 2-3 seconds looking at a piece of content before they move on,” says Richard Roaf. So make your posts succinct, striking and simple. Choose fresh images and words – or you’ll lose potential readers/watchers. “For videos, unless the first two seconds gives them a strong reason to watch, and peaks their curiosity, they’re not going to hang around,” Roaf says. 

Successful content also taps into your audience’s worldview and offers them something they value – it could be emotional value, new information, or a sense of empowerment. Michael Hamilton, Digital Communications Organiser at Safe Passage, says the latter is very powerful. “The key thing is make people feel that they really can make a difference,” he says.

I was part of the team that raised over £500,000 in New Internationalist’s Community Share Offer. Before we produced content, some members of the team spent time to understand our readers.

Roaf agrees. “There are a lot of people who already care about your campaign and know about the issues. The job isn’t convincing people that there is a problem: if you tell them how they can act to solve it, that’s really powerful.” 

A good example is 5 Ways to Disrupt Racism, a video Roaf produced with a very tight budget after a rise in racially motivated incidents in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum. Instead of telling people about the incidents, the video gave them concrete tips on what they could do about it. It was watched over 30 million times.

Likeminded influencers

A viral post is not an end in itself – remember that it must also take you closer to your goals. For this, try explicitly asking readers to do something – eg share a post, sign up for a newsletter, or donate money, depending on your goal. As rudimental as it sounds, it works: if you’re targeting the right audience, they already know your campaign and support it. So your job is to facilitate their work. 

You do this by keeping your asks clear and succinct, too. Also, engage them with some motivation. For example, if you want people to share the video above, your post might read: “Share to change the narrative together”. In a fundraiser, you might say: “Join in: donate to make more videos like this.”

You won’t achieve your goals with one post, so brainstorm ideas and formats, and build a lot of content. Don’t worry about presenting the polished side of the campaign – social media is about authenticity. 

“[If you don’t have many resources], don’t waste your time making something that is very polished,” suggests Safe Passage’s Michael Hamilton. “People really engage with something that is authentic and current. Just focus on creating lots of content and being a bit rough and ready with it. People will engage with it.”

If you are short of resources to create lots of content, you can share somebody else’s, if it taps into your audience’s key values. And vice-versa, network with likeminded big accounts and influencers: asking them to share your best posts can grow your audience.

This Author

Alessio Perrone is a freelance journalist and digital native.

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