With the effects of COVID-19 spreading across the globe and the entire state of California required to stay at home as much as possible, we are living in a truly challenging and unprecedented situation. What does this mean for Gigantic’s clients, mostly local government agencies and non-profits involved in environmental behavior change? Business as usual seems a little unrealistic. How can we live into the needs of our audiences to provide information and encouragement while still living our mission?
Local Government has a particular opportunity to choose a friendly and positive tone with messaging:
- “We do real, important stuff.” Emphasize essential services like waste collection that are ongoing, rain or shine. Point to specific workers who are getting it done.
- “We are your neighbors.” We live here, too, and want the best for the community.
- “We’re In This Together.” Has never been more true. While this message does not move everyone (no message does), now is the time to stress universal cooperation, as no one is immune or untouched by COVID-19’s effects.
Communicating with the public via websites, email or social media posts is still a possibility and an opportunity. Of course, the tone of the messages is important and may need to be adjusted during this period. We all know this is a high-stress, challenging time. This is no time for playing the blame game (e.g., asking people to avoid excess packaging by ordering online). We need to put aside some of our favorite themes (such as promoting the use of reusable cups).
Messaging is more important than ever, and already we are seeing how poor messaging can have consequences. For example, we hear a lot about “social distancing” — an accepted term in epidemiological circles — that is not immediately understandable or resonant with the general public. Social what? One could assume it means “staying off social media” rather than “staying six feet apart.” Perhaps “physical distancing” would be more appropriate. In these times we want to encourage stronger social bonds – checking on neighbors and families online, for example – while maintaining a physical distance. The group March for Science recently summarized tips in a Facebook post:
The communication best practices of clarity, specificity and simple language apply now more than ever. The WHO’s recent ad on Google’s home page does a good job:
One thing we know is that people are turning to social media as an alternative to chatting by the office coffee maker. It is still a good time to converse with our constituents! Topics for posts revolve around our “new normal” here in California:
What AREN’T people doing?
- Going out to bars, clubs and restaurants
- Spending time at the office
- Planning trips/parties/picnics
What ARE people doing?
- Working from home
- Home schooling the kids
- Spring Cleaning
- Shopping online
- Using products, such as wipes and gloves, that they may not have used before (see image below.)
There are plenty of ideas for messages now:
- Yard waste goes in the green cart
- Avoid garden chemicals – hand weeding can be very soothing
- Planning meals (so many meals!) to avoid food waste
- Wipes belong in the trash
- Take time to sort
- Appreciation for waste haulers and others working during this crisis
- Calming pictures of local landmarks and nature
Of course, if COVID-19 becomes even more dire, there may come a time when cheerful posts about recycling gin bottles strike a false note. As always, those of us who communicate with the public need to live into what our audiences are experiencing and choose when or if it’s appropriate to communicate about particular topics.
From the whole team at Gigantic Idea Studio: Be well!
It has always been a challenge for mission-driven Brand Pages, such as public agencies, to reach and grow their followers on Facebook. In January Facebook announced they are “changing the News Feed to prioritize posts from friends, family members and groups over posts from publishers and brands.” The stated reason is to promote a more fulfilling experience with the channel and discourage “passive scrolling” without engagement. The change will favor posts that elicit comments, rather than passive consumption or “likes.” (“Favoring” means that posts will show to more people.)
One impetus for the decision is recent negative press about Facebook, including hosting fake news and being purposely designed to foster addictive behaviors and to keep fans “hooked” on the channel. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has stated his personal commitment to leading these changes, thanks to a new view of his creation’s strengths and weaknesses.
How Will Facebook Algorithm Changes Affect Me?
Organizational Facebook pages are reaching just a tiny fraction of their followers with each post. Even before the latest changes, organic reach for Facebook Pages was plummeting, from nearly 100% of fans in 2007 to less than 2% today.
Some immediate predictions include:
- People will spend less time (but supposedly higher quality time) on Facebook.
- Posts may become more “shocking” with the goal of eliciting reactions.
- Comments will be prized, and the longer the better.
Note: this announcement includes no changes to the advertising model, which many critics point to as the fount of toxicity.
What Can I Do?
What is a page manager to do? Like the stock market, it’s probably best to keep calm and carry on, rather than trying to overhaul strategy with every change. There are widely varying predictions of the result of this latest action.
Gigantic recommends to all clients:
- Continue posting high quality, relevant content.
- Consider making posts more conversational in style and asking for feedback and responses, including encouraging people to tag your organization.
- Focus on quality of posts more than quantity; this becomes even more true with the renewed emphasis on posts that promote conversation.
- Monitor your posts and respond to comments promptly, using a consistent “voice” for your page.
- Be prepared for decreased reach of videos, which had been highly favored by the Facebook algorithm. (Facebook’s reasoning is that videos promote passive consumption rather than active dialogue.) Consider incorporating calls for reaction and encouraging dialogue about your video posts.
- Continue to incorporate ads and boosted posts to increase your messages’ reach.
- Be a good neighbor: Share and tag other organizations’ content in your posts, as long as they are relevant to you.
- Don’t Panic!
As always, Gigantic Idea Studio is happy to discuss your social media strategy and make recommendations to enhance your environmental outreach.
Are you planning an environmental outreach campaign that includes social media? I hope so! As you probably know, social media is a great way to spread the word about your organization’s activities and to encourage public participation. But “social media” is not a single, uniform bucket. Just as you would plan a different print ad for a publication that reaches high school students than for one that focuses on businesses, so your posts in social media should be guided by who you are trying to reach and why.
How to get started with a channel-specific strategy?
To start, try creating a mission statement for each channel. The mission statements should be based on your organizational goals and the audience you are most likely to reach with each channel. For example, are you trying to reach young people? Snapchat (60% of Snapchat users are under 25) is a good channel to consider. If you’re trying to reach Baby Boomers or businesses, not so much.
Here are some sample mission statements by channel:
We will use Twitter to raise our profile with influencers in the U.S. and beyond.
We will use Facebook to keep our fans updated and informed about our organization’s activities and to provide calls to action to the public.
We will use Instagram to promote the joy of a waste-free lifestyle with the local community.
Our blog provides detail and a personal voice on our organization’s issues and activities for those who already know about us.
Next, tailor your content by channel. Some organizations, looking to save time, make all of their Facebook posts automatically post to Twitter. This may undermine your efforts when your audience and mission are different for each channel.
This doesn’t mean you should not cross-post the same topic in different channels. But it is a good idea to structure the content for your target audience: customize the language and images to achieve your mission.
Measure, Measure, Measure
How do you know if your channel strategy is working? Measure the results and compare your progress to your goals. For instance, your Twitter feed may be focused on reaching influencers. You can then evaluate your Twitter efforts by the number of key influencers who follow or retweet you. (In other words, it may be that the quality of your followers is more important than the number of them.) If your goal is to raise awareness of an issue, then the metric of reach/impressions is key. If your goal is to have users respond to a call to action, you will want to look at both click-through rate and number of clicks.
There is so much more to say about social media strategy, but starting with a channel mission statement is a useful guide when you are creating and customizing your communications. Happy posting!
Agencies focused on green behavior change — such as recycling, energy use, and water conservation — have a lot on their plates. Tackling the ravenous, always-open maw of social media can seem a daunting task to add to that already bulging to-do list. But if your goal is to reach people at a time and place where they’re likely to be receptive, social media merits a prominent place on that list of tasks.
Here are six commandments that may help guide your agency’s social media tactics and conserve time and money:
Commandment #1—Thou Shalt Not Attempt To Be All Things To All People. You may think that you need a presence on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Vine and Tumblr (wait, what about Reddit? Google+?), but that is nearly impossible with limited time and resources. It’s also unnecessary. Pick one or two channels, based on where your target audience is, and where chances are good they will be open to messaging about waste, recycling, energy, etc. Got lots of great visuals of re-use projects for the home? Consider a Pinterest account. Have a grants program aimed at helping local businesses streamline operations? Look to LinkedIn and Twitter. Study each channel’s advantages and culture, and pick the best fit for your overall outreach goals. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself reaching that choir and making your campaigns sing.
Commandment #2—Thou Shalt Not Be Boring. Effective social media is a many-way street. Social media audiences, by definition, expect the channel to be interactive and responsive. Treating it like a bulletin board (“Here’s our new program”; “Do what we say”) will eventually cause your audience to tune you out. This leads us to …
Commandment #3—Thou Shalt Provide Relevant, Interesting Content. Content marketing is king these days, and that quirky infographic, eye-catching image or catchy video is key to capturing the eye of the people you most want to reach. Stick to your core subjects but find an angle that makes those subjects matter to those who matter to you. This leads us to:
Commandment #4—Thou Shalt Be Strategic. Having written social media guidelines will streamline your work and allow tasks to be shared or passed on without wheel re-invention. Guidelines should include topics, tone, type and frequency of posts, all the while referring back to your overall outreach goals. This will save time and ensure you present a consistent public face.
Commandment #5—Thou Shalt Listen Intently … And Respond. Social media is not about you; it’s about what other people are saying about you and your programs. Use Google Alerts or other tools to listen in on what folks are saying about your issue, good and bad. Find the influencers in your field and build relationships over social media before you ask them for any favors. And if someone is kind enough to praise your program or ask a question, a prompt response demonstrates that your agency listens and cares.
Commandment #6—Thou Shalt be Flexible. As with any marketing tactic, evaluation and measurement are essential. If a social media channel is not working (and you’ve given it the old college try), modify your approach. A drop-off in engagement could be an early sign that your message, channel or both aren’t working. The only certainty in the world of social media is that it moves fast, fast, fast. So take a gulp of coffee and look at your analytics (web metrics, Facebook Insights, YouTube views, etc.) with a critical eye.
Lastly, the Golden Rule. No, not a new one. The Golden Rule you already know. “Do unto others …” works in social media as in life. Take the time to support relevant causes, applaud others’ efforts, respond to comments and thank your supporters. Agencies that take the time to participate fully in this amazing global phenomenon will stand out and enjoy remarkable returns.