Talking about climate change is difficult, but doing it on Twitter is a high-stakes gamble. Get it right and you’ve educated a new audience. Get it wrong and you’ve sent a skeptic over the edge into full-time alienation. Advice abounds on how to get it right, but–unlike the consensus over climate change itself–there’s not a lot of agreement.
In times like these, I turn to good research.
Case in point: I’ve discovered the research of Dr. Ashley A. Anderson at Colorado State University, who studies how social media affects public opinion, knowledge, and behavior concerning climate change. After digging through Anderson’s work, I’ve pulled together what I think are the 3 most helpful, evidence-based tips for how to talk about climate change on Twitter.
Keep it Personal
Organizational accounts may have more followers, but your personal account has more power to persuade.
Studies show that “personalization” closes the psychological distance that people experience with climate change. In short: you make it real for them. This is extended through the use of photos, stories, and real events.
People tend to form an opinion about an issue or become emotionally invested in it when it is personalized for them. For example, several studies demonstrate that when a person witnesses a weather event or anomaly through media, that experience contributes to an increased perception of the real risk of climate change.
Overall, Anderson’s research suggests it is what people feel when seeing your photo, hearing your story, or following an event, that truly persuades them about climate change. But crucially, that feeling does not need to be fear to be effective.
Fear and jargon will not work if your goal is to persuade climate skeptics.
Although climate change is often called a “climate crisis,” research shows that alarmist language and “iconic” visuals that rely on fear to persuade people actually “disengage” social media audiences in relation to climate change.
Posts that are laden with scientific jargon are also disengagement triggers because they are perceived as elitist and alienating.
The implication here is that the tone of your social media posts can shape attitudes toward climate change in general. The more empathetic you are with your audience, the greater chance you have of connecting with them.
Alarmist language and “iconic” visuals that rely on fear to persuade people actually “disengage” social media audiences in relation to climate change.
Talk about the Weather
Far more social media users discuss extreme weather events than climate change.
Link the two with hashtags and keywords and you will educate a new audience.
If you are hoping to reach a new audience, this is the kind of information that counts, especially given the already-established point that the experience of weather can personalize climate change for people.
There is evidence that extreme weather events will generate a spike in discussion about climate change on Twitter. This spike creates an opportunity to educate a public that might not otherwise find you as a source of information on social media.
I’m anxious to put these tactics to the test. I confess that I am guilty of every sin on this list, but how effective has it been going my way? How amazing would it be to actually draw skeptics and deniers in?
We would love to hear your thoughts on these takeaways and how they work for you. Tag us in your climate change tweets on Twitter so we can follow the action!
This is the first in a series of posts that will show how recent research on various topics in social media can help you, our social media users at the UN, achieve the common goal of connecting the public to your work. You can find all posts in this series under the category: The Social Diplomat.
Anderson, A. (2017, March 29). Effects of Social Media Use on Climate Change Opinion, Knowledge, and Behavior. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Climate Science. Ed. Retrieved 4 Jan. 2019, from http://oxfordre.com/climatescience/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190228620.001.0001/acrefore-9780190228620-e-369.