Lucy Warin on Futerra asked some good questions regarding sustainability communications on her recent blog post this snowy friday. Questions are often more important than the answers themselves, so in my answer I hope that I will come up with some intelligent questions as well. I shall also add that, there was quite a lot of thoughtful comments over there well worth a read.
I definitely think that the possibility to hold companies to account has increased. Because of social media’s fluid communication more transparency of the corporate world emerges. The companies that screw up are simply put under more scrutiny by a huge number of people calling out on their wrong doings. Essentially a self-organized collective action often driven by our feelings of injustice or anger.
To some extent it really is self-organized, but for this chain reaction to start it needs a spark. I would argue that this spark consists of two things. First a clear picture of what the problem is. Secondly, someone that frames this problem in a compelling way. If it fulfills both of these two criteria and is eventually found by people influential enough to spread the message to a large enough network there will be a backlash for the given corporation.
However there is one certain thing that is pervasive in many environmental problems: they are diluted amongst many actors. Identifying who the perpetrator really is therefore becomes difficult, which makes it difficult to hold anyone to account. It also seems plausible that the transboundary character of these problems also contributes to distance and less engagement in many of these issues. Used creatively I think social media can bridge some of these issues as well.
First of all, I don’t really like the word consumer, it’s a word of the past. It essentially dichotomizes the world into a producer – consumer relation. Active and a passive part human beings. On the other hand, with customers there is give, and there is take.
I think Andrew Sleigh captures this pretty good with his comment on the post:
Because everyone involved in the community was a co-owner, debate was – on the whole – constructive, and people accepted that the energy company wasn’t going to get everything right.
Deliberation is a powerful tool, that I think should be utilized more. In meeting the other side both will be able to re-evaluate their preferences. I’m not sure that social media always will be able to facilitate such a deep deliberation but it will certainly help towards it. Indeed this conversation we’re having with these blogposts is a kind of deliberation.
For this to succeed both need to have an open mind about it, my feeling is that if the one that has the most power comes with an open mind it will help to drive deliberation deeper. Although even deliberation has it’s demerits. It doesn’t scale very well. A great example of this is the current Q&A with wikileaks founder Julian Assange. He got more than 900 questions and could only answer a few, in answering these he could effectively frame his answers to suit his needs and get his message out. A power imbalance if you will. This power imbalance is of course also recurring when customers slams a corporation on a given issue. But these moments can on the other hand lead into a more thoughtful deliberation as things calm down.
The first question I ask myself is, how do we define well? Is it by how many followers we’ve amassed? Is it with how much engagement we’ve succeeded in? Is it by any other goal that we set up?
In this example, a twitter sweepstake, trying to encourage people act towards preserving natural resources for future generations. Through twitter 150 000 people participated in the campaign, was it a success? In terms of social media engagement it certainly was. But in this case, maybe the outcome is more interesting, whether it translated to real-world activities or not.
But as communication is so inherent in social media, maybe we ought not to try to create this kind of flash campaigns but rather try to create communities. These are also much more difficult to create than a single campaign because they need someone to nurture them at all times. Look at the profession as a digital gardener if you will.
If one starts to look for these kind of long lived campaigns you recognize that there are a lot these all over the place. Futerra’s swishing, to exchange clothes. #skjutsgruppen / @skjutsgruppen on twitter to get a hitchhike in Sweden. The newly started Jumo. Another interesting example would be Old Spice commercial, although not trying to promote social change it shows that the kind of conversational videos which did turned out to be wildly successful and in some sense created a community around the product. When these kind of communities emerge it lowers the threshold to actually participate in collective action, because everybody else is doing it, aren’t they?
These are some of the thoughts I had, chime in because there is a lot more to say.
The reverbation of today's society through the eyes of a person deeply in love with planet earth. The transformation of today's society is going on in front of our very eyes, I'm striving to be one of the persons to tell the tale of how it was done.
I think at the core of a happier planet and happier persons is community, sharing and telling stories.