What can sustainability communicators learn from social media marketers?

Recently, Ann Dale, Jamie Clifton-Ross and I wrote an article for the Journal of Digital and Social Media Marketing. In it, we detailed a case study about Canada Research Connections (@CRCResearch) and how we applied social media marketing concepts, specifically content curation strategies, to more broadly engage a broad audience with academic research on sustainability.

An image showing arrows between two word bubbles and the phrase social media marketing
“Social Media Marketing” by Jerry Nihen is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Over two years, we took a deliberate approach grounded in best practices in social media strategy. We attempted to build a network of interested followers friends, we engaged in reciprocity, sharing the posts produced by others, and we deliberately used engaging visuals, narratives, and accessible language in our posting. Furthermore, we ensured that we were posting to social media platforms on a regular schedule, and posting according to the times that were most appropriate for each platform. Finally, we tailored our content to suit different platforms. Longer posts and videos for facebook, short bite-sized content and retweets with images on Twitter, Strong images and short videos on Instagram, and longer videos with animations on YouTube. Every approach we followed was well known in the social media marketing world, but interestingly was not broadly used in science or sustainability communication. Instead, these communication domains tend to rely primarily on a more just the facts style communication with an academic presentation and tone.

Many science and public education practitioners think that more information is the answer to changing public behavior. This argument suggests that if the public simply has the right information, they will make the right decisions. However, what marketers have known for years is that emotion and aesthetics and group membership have more to do with changes in peoples’ attitudes and behaviors (as well as their propensity to become more polarized when confronting a message that does not align with their views).

In our case, we think that the marketing approach does indeed have something to offer. We found that by using the best practices from the social media marketing literature, we were able to grow our followers on all platforms, and were also able to increase engagement with our sustainability messaging. To us, this shows that the delivery of the message is equally as important as the content, when it comes to reaching people in a crowded information environment.

To learn more, please access our upcoming article in the Journal of Digital and Social Media Marketing, to be published Fall, 2018.

What can sustainability communicators learn from social media marketers?

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