Believe Me, Social Media is a wild, brazen beast.
Maybe not for you, but for Me – At times, it reminds me of an Annaconda squeeze – a nail-biting vampire of breathing down the jugular veins of your keyboard. A wild, Amazonian temptress ready to rob you of everything you ever valued, everything you ever dreamed, a bone-marrow depleting destiny …with a dentist!
Well… Maybe not thaaat dramatic.
But it is most definitely a daunting tool to master, that too many people nowadays take for granted.
Sure, you may infected with facebook fever, a grammy-award winning Instagrammer, a twitterer since your tweens, but do you really know how to expand on the too often tunnel-vision trend that social media has us stuck in?
In this brilliant essay, Harvard Law Professor and former head of the ‘Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs’ in the US, Cass Sustein argues that the Internet – which is now way more dictated by social media than back when he wrote this great essay in 2001 – is actually not so great for finding out information you didn’t want to find out in the first place.
Since then, a bunch of people have written about this trend, including this great post on Cracked and this one really cool guy called Eli Parser. This guy wrote a book called the filter bubble all about how our internet use is actually blocking our minds from interacting with things that we might disagree with or dislike – thereby creating a filter bubble within our own Internet experience, and within our social network. (Here’s another great explanation of this effect.)
Put basically, every time you use google, facebook, twitter, or even go on-line, your on-line experience is becoming more perfectly personalized, and therefore more limited to the things you liked before.
This is great for efficiency and for finding stuff on-line that you’re going to like.
But it sucks for anyone trying to get people to notice things that they might not otherwise notice, engage with topics they might not really want to engage with, or read a blog by a blogger they aren’t predisposed to enjoy.
And that’s why I call social media a bit of a wild beast. Because it has the potential to take control of you, and anyone who uses it, by controlling what you see based on ‘what you want to see’.
This is the reinforcing loop many of us are locked in.
The key then for social media activists, is how to get into this loop, or how to break people out.
During my time with Adoptanegotiator.org, I have tried a bunch of different techniques to try and break into people’s loops. Some of these have worked, and some of these haven’t. But just like those kids on Silicon valley have shown the world, it seems like as long as you’re not afraid to fail, and fail horribly – you might be heading in the right direction.
That’s been my philosophy with Social media and online activism in general. In my blog content and my social media engagement, I think the key aspect has been an ‘openness to failure’ that has allowed me to be a bit more creative than maybe I should have been, a bit more brazen than others were expecting, and sometimes, a bit more successful than I thought.
This is exactly what happened to me when I wrote what I thought was a cheeky gossip piece about the UN climate negotiators called “The top 10 negotiators at COP18”.
At the time, I thought it would be just a bit of fun, maybe only read by some of my team members and a few young people at the conference looking for a laugh. So I really set myself free with my wording, and I made it a list, like the ones on Cracked, because I thought that would be something I would enjoy reading. And I used a lot of funny wordplay about important people who don’t usually get written about in non-serious tones. In the end, it turned into a a funny little piece, that I decided to send to some of the negotiators on twitter. After I did that, it spread like wildfire within the UN climate circles.
The day after I wrote it, I was not only being asked in for meetings with lead negotiators from the Philippines, Venezuela, Australia, Peru and the EU, but I was even being quoted by the President of Brazil. ‘
And thanks to shares on Facebook and Twitter, I was getting feedback on the article from people who never before had been interested in the UN climate process.
While I’m not exactly sure why this all happened, I think a big part of it comes down to a few variables:
- I made things personable in a way not too many other people were doing at the time
- I tried to make it funny
- I used a format people like and is easy to engage with – like a list.
- It was different/unique/strange
- I sent it directly to the negotiators involved – who then sent it to their delegations, who sent it to their friends.
- I shared it in as many relevant hashtags and facebook groups I could – even if this meant overtly double posting.
- It was a bit scary.
While you shouldn’t always do things that are scary, sometimes sitting on the edge of scared is a good place to be in when trying to break people out of the information loops the Internet has them sitting through.
That reminds me of another scary blog I wrote – actually it was a video I made one boring day watching the negotiations in Thailand. Instead of writing a safe blog that everyone else was writing about the nonsense going on in the negotiations that day, I decided to make a mocking video that I tweeted as “Hidden camera footage of Bangkok negotiations” across the UNFCCC twitter lists, using every hash tag I knew – and then directly tweeting it to the negotiators supposedly involved.
While this was a mocking video with a lie for a headline, it strangely began a conversation on-line between negotiators and myself, led to informal meetings later on, and opened up a space to discuss semi-serious stuff on twitter – for the whole UN climate following to see.
It was a pretty similar case when I posted this Karaoke impression of the negotiations, or when I teamed up with Sébastien Duyck on a series of mocking videos of the UN negotiations. It started as something different, something fun, something scary, and something we decided to share.
In the end, after you get the basics right like how to share things and who to share them with, you need to have something they feel like they want to share as well. So you need something that people enjoy sharing. And thanks to the research I told you about before, your friends are probably the best people to start sharing things.
But if their friends are going to share it again, it has to be something worth sharing and emotionally engaging. And sometimes, that ends up being something funny – even if you have to be funny about something really serious.
This is especially true when it comes to climate change. If we are ever going to do something about communicating climate change better, we have got to start figuring out ways to break out of the converted choir groups we continue to sing in and start to connect to people on an emotional level. This article will help explain why.
One way to do that, is to make things fun – and fun for your friends to share. Even if you’re trying to communicate something serious.