3 Twitter Takeaways from New Research on Social Media and Climate Change

Photo Credit Michael Paredes

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.

Today’s post draws from the research of Dr. Ashley A. Anderson at Colorado State University, who has written on how social media affects public opinion, knowledge, and behavior concerning climate change. If you would like to read her excellent article sourced for this post, find it cited below. For those of you who would prefer 3 quick takeaways on how you can apply this research to your Twitter feed, read on!

 1. Keep it personal.

Organizational accounts may have more followers, but your personal account has more power to persuade. Keep talking about climate change on your personal social media account and when you do: use photos, stories, and real events (rather than iconic visuals and stats).

  • Studies show that this “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. As an example related to climate change, several studies demonstrate that when a person has the experience of witnessing a weather event or anomaly through media, that contributes to that person’s increased perception of the real risk of climate change.
  • Essentially, research suggests that it is what people feel when seeing your photo, hearing your story, or following an event, that truly persuades them about climate change.

2. 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. Examples include “#hurricane #climatechange” and “#wildfire #globalwarming”.

  • 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.

3. Stay positive.

  • Although climate change is often called a “climate crisis,” research shows that alarmist language and “iconic” visuals that rely on fear to persuade people will in fact “disengage” social media audiences in relation to climate change.
  • This is also the case with posts that are laden with scientific jargon, as they are perceived as elitist. Anderson cites several studies related to this point.
  • The implication here is that the tone of your social media posts can shape attitudes toward climate change in general.

We would love to hear your thoughts on these takeaways and how they work for you on Twitter! Also, please share with us what else you have found effective when talking about climate change on social media. You can comment below or Direct Message us @unsocial500. Look for another post in The Social Diplomat Series at the beginning of next month!


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.