Dear Doug and colleagues,
another question from me: has anyone began to explore the potential of applying community-based social marketing to virtual communities? See below for some background material on virtual communities.
Virtual communities are self-organizing social networks created and sustained through the communication efforts of voluntary participants socially and geographically dispersed. Virtual communities make use of so-called "social networking sites", an increasingly popular online communication, entertainment, and networking tool for users to upload, share and view information, photos, and messages. Examples of such sites include MySpace.com, Facebook.com and Bebo.com. While many organisations previously dismissed these communication channels as unserious, many are increasingly recognising their enormous potential, especially in communicating with people under 35. In June 2007, the top six most popular social networking sites attracted a total of almost 274 million global visitors. Ninety percent of South Korean citizens between the ages of twenty-four and twenty-nine are members of one Korean website, www.cyworld.com MySpace.com attracted more than 114 million global visitors age 15 and older in June 2007, representing a 72-percent increase since 2006. Facebook.com experienced even stronger growth during that same time frame, jumping 270 percent to 52.2 million visitors. With literally hundreds of millions of people from around the world visiting social networking sites each month, it would appear that social networking is not a fad but rather an activity that is being woven into the very fabric of the global Internet. Because of this, a variety of profit and non-profit organizations have begun to explore the potential of social networking sites as channels through witch to communicate with their target groups. For example, in February 2008, the UK Sustainable Development Commission posted a series of presentations on product roadmapping by Allan Knight on it's own website (http://www.sd-commission.org.uk/pages/product_roadmapping.html#knightvideos) as well as on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1eVTdHUmZs ).
Social Marketing and Virtual Communities
Dear Doug and colleagues,
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Many nonprofits and some government social marketers are using Care2 to communicate with a self identified audience of people who care about the environment, animal welfare, health, sustainability, and human rights. We've helped promote the Energy Star CFL campaign, NOAA's International Year of the Reef, and hundreds of other initiatives and campaigns. Care2 was created expressly to be a social network of people who Cared to make a difference, and thus would be an exceptionally receptive audience. Our members vote, participate in public hearings, volunteer, and donate at an exceptionally high rate.
I was just thinking about FSB and online networks this morning. The two examples I was thinking of related to FSB were Flylady and the No S Diet (links below). Neither of these networks is specifically focused on environmental behaviors. Flylady addresses home and life management while No S is an eating plan whose rules are: No Sweets, No Seconds, No Snacks except on days that begin with S (Sat., Sun. and special days). However, if the testimonies from members are to be believed, then both these sites have been instrumental in facilitating behavior change. Since the behaviors focus on consuming less and managing what you do consume, there are secondary environmental impacts. I've been musing over in the back of mind how do these networks manage to facilitate behavior change. Using CBSM as an interpretative framework, I think the way they do it is:
1) A clear and understandable message
2) Relatively few exterior barriers to implementation
3) A social network which norms the desired behaviors (different for both examples; Flylady uses a listserve while No S uses a bulletin board forum).
Obviously, the online network is limited in what it can provide in terms of changing behaviors: the lack of a "real people" model, no incentives other than the psychic "bennie" of more organized home or better eating habits, or facilitation to remove exterior barriers. So in a sense, I think they both owe their success, in part, to the fact that they have ready students who came looking for them. (Full disclosure, I'm one of them for both sites). Using the online network is and will be a key component to FSB plan. I don't know if a straight up/out and out approach will always be the best however. Think of all the forums and under utilized list serves that are in existence. Perhaps a more "viral" approach will be necessary? Also, to add a wrinkle to this discussion, think of how to best utilize the massive, multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft (my son is a hardcore gamer, level 70 Palladin [I think I have that right...]). I think there might be potential there to infuse a sustainable behavior message other than "I'm reducing my carbon footprint because I'm not out driving".
Links: Flylady http://flylady.net/; http://groups.yahoo.com/group/FlyLadyMentors/
No S http://www.nosdiet.com/ http://everydaysystems.com/bb/viewforum.php?f=3
I&E Project Administrator
Project WET SD
805 W. Sioux Ave.
Pierre, SD 57501
Facebook has an application called "I Am Green". You take a questionnaire and commit to taking green actions. By doing so you earn green leaves and at the end you get a score. You can see your friends scores and invite them to take specific green actions. You can browse green networks, there are forums, games, and information. You could contact the application developer (through the page) for more information. Good luck. I think virtual communities can be a very powerful tool in the work we all do.
We are building an online social networking community that will promote eco-friendly lifestyle. When we started the planning process we run into social marketing and based some ideas on it. But we are not experts on in this field. I was planning to send an Email to the Fostering Sustainable Behavior Listserv at the launch time and introduce our community to the readers (of course I hope that this is not considered spaming on this Listserv). But when you posted a question I saw an opportunity to say a few words. As already said - we are not experts in social marketing - so we will be glad if you can give us advice and make suggestions. We would really appreciate it since our basic idea was to integrate as much social marketing as possible and of course it would help our core mission (Our mission is to inspire and empower people from around the world to adopt an eco-friendly and a more fulfilling lifestyle, which would help preserve and improve the quality of life on Earth). We also plan to combine the community with the wiki style guide for eco-friendly lifestyle. You are all welcomed to join the community and especially to contribute your knowledge to the online eco guide! There are already some communities online that are doing similar work as we plan: www.makemesustainable.com, www.thedailygreen, www.care2.com... You can also find useful data on the blog http://marketinggreen.wordpress.com/2007/12/01/green-marketing-on-social-net works/. If my post is a spam, please delete it. If not, I will be glad to have an opportunity to invite you again when the site is launched. Sabina Podjed Community Manager and Editor People for Earth www.people4earth.org (beta version will be launched in June 2008)
The New England Climate Protection Partnership is in the process of developing an online social networking community campaign around the concept of "unplugging". Based on this year's focus group research and online messaging research we've decided to focus on the energy efficiency for the purposes of saving money campaign rather than using an environmental message. The target audience selected this behavior as the most desirable energy efficiency behavior to start with. We tested out several specific behavior change strategies (shorter showers, no-idling, unplugging, other). The 18-25 year olds that we have decided to focus on in the mainstream are just not moved by environmental messaging and we want to broaden our target audience to the general consumers. Pew Stats show an average of 17 hours of online computer use each week for this age group. The NECPP creative campaign is being designed by our partner marketing agency and we are investigating an online viral approach with mentors initiating contact and will be able to share more as that idea reaches fruition. At this point - the possibilities are very exciting. It is an area of vast possibilities. And plenty of opportunity for using community-based social marketing strategies in an online sort of way. In the meantime, I found the makemesustainable.org web site quite interesting and also found the research on carbon footprint from computer use in this months Scientific American equally fascinating. I had never thought in terms of their online use having a carbon footprint but indeed it's pretty large given the vast computer banks powering the infrastructure. Though not as large as actually driving somewhere to buy something rather than buying online. But then most online is about social networking and not buying things or emailing like us older folks tend to use the internet for.
Maine DEP Air Bureau
I would urge someone to write up an academic paper analyzing the different green social networking efforts through the lens of Fostering Sustainable Behavior: an Introduction to Community Based Social Marketing. Here's a web site that starts with a relatively "weak pledge," one that doesn't change self-perception: http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/commit/ , but then, by having the "newly committed" invite their friends to join, could actually change an individual's self perception. The invitation of friends makes the person's pledge "visible" to that person's peer group - "locking" that green commitment down.
http://www.whoonearthcares.com/woec/home.action - uses Cate Blanchett as a spokesperson, using the FSB principle of "liking." I looked at the map of pledgers in downtown Sydney and saw about 1 person per city block. At this "low density" of physical connection, it is difficult to see where social norms could be changed. If a pledger either changes behavior or does not, there is no proximate, reinforcing community of humans observing this behavior. Most of the virtual community green pledges (such as http://www.climateprotect.org/pledge, http://green.yahoo.com/pledge/create, http://mcp.editme.com/makeapledge, and http://www.ospirgstudents.org/action/climate/cascade-climate-pledge) do not appear to follow FSB principles to change self-perception to create lasting behavior change. Disappointingly, I do not believe that staff for these projects understand the process of human behavior change - if there was an understanding of behavior change, then many of these web sites would never have launched in their current form because it is obvious that they are doomed to failure. Most of the virtual community pledges can be characterized as "easily forgotten." There would seem to be a large opportunity to innovate and apply FSB principles to help these virtual communities create more effective "movements." Here' a grassroots "physical, in-person" social networking site: http://transitiontowns.org/Main/HomePage . Community Based Social Marketing principles are more readily applied to groups of humans in physical proximity, but there should hopefully be some way to help virtual communities where pledgers do not come into physical contact. "Dual communities," where there are physical meetings as well as virtual community, also show promise for CBSM. My thinking on this is that the place to change behavior is in new, large residential communities. Force all entering residents to sign an effective green pledge as a condition of occupying their home, and create a community of 200+ people where there is 100% participation in a program. It's very difficult to achieve 100% participation in an existing community (psychologically, you are "taking away something people already have"), but it is relatively simple to lock people into new behavior in that magic moment when a person changes their residence (a time of change). Given 100% participation, then it's a given that social norms change. Imagine a community of 200 people with 50% energy consumption and carbon production compared to their immediate neighbors. (It's far easier for 200 neighbors to cut carbon dramatically by working together than for 200 dispersed humans to work individually to cut carbon - there are clearly local scale/behavior economies: carpooling, tool sharing, green education, knowledge base development, delivery services, etc.) Once such a community succeeds, then it has social clout. Then the successful community can bring about further innovations within a city. Such a success should surely cause other such communities to spring up ("viral spread"). Contrast this to the typical green virtual community approach: a) make a "throwaway pledge" to change your lightbulbs to achieve a 1% carbon reduction and b) attract 20,000 "members" worldwide, where 98% of "members" are inactive within 2 months. This virtual community has no clout - the community itself hasn't achieved sufficient carbon reduction for anyone to care about that community. We need successful, exemplary communities that the rest of the world will look up to ("wow, 50% carbon reduction, I'd like to live there"), not a bunch of mediocre communities. Further, the exemplary communities should be composed of pretty normal people. It's the social regime that needs to change - the need isn't for unusually committed super-green people, just mildly green-leaning people put in a situation where they can succeed through friendly cooperation. There is huge pent up demand for green behavior change, but there is no mechanism to harness this demand. So, I guess the point is that it is important to figure out the proper scale to bring about behavior change. 200 people living in proximity is an interesting scale - I haven't seen an argument that a virtual community of 20,000 inactive "members" is impactful. So, here's a direction that I think might work (though it hasn't attracted grant funding yet, so maybe I'm self-deceived): http://www.cities21.org/LMC/
Cities21, Palo Alto, CA
Five quick thoughts.
1. Applying sound principles to website communities is most definitely a good idea.
2. You say start with a new community and somehow "force" members to sign on for a green pledge. I am not sure how you could do that sort of "forcing." It would either take local government putting such a requirement on developers, or some developer voluntarily making that a requirement of buying a unit in its development. These do not seem likely to me. I use "force" just to be provocative. The new green incoming residents will willingly sign the pledge. What the LMC scheme really does is prevent "non-green" people from moving into the community. These non-green people would then hinder the social norms from changing. I'm involved in a lot of land use policy/legal research, and I've found that this requirement-to-sign-a-pledge CAN be implemented legally. This has to be volunteered by the developer, cities can't impose it. The challenge is getting a few developers to try out the program - they can require every new entrant to sign a pledge. It may be that, for the first few developments, a third party (maybe a charitable foundation) will have to pay developers to try out the policy. But, once the policy is in place, then there is a real chance to "monetize" the carbon savings. I do believe that developers will find that they can create a desirable, differentiated community that commands a premium. It's just that developers aren't a very innovative culture, and their bankers are even less innovative.
3. You hope that with 100% participation all of a sudden cherished "ideals" such as private ownership of tools would fade or that car pooling to what are likely widely dispersed jobs would take place. I am not sure what mechanisms would bring this about. If the social norm is "green and cooperative" and further if all the car trips to the home improvement store are originating from the same place, then I believe carpooling for short shopping trips will arise easily. Further, LMC residents will understand that commuting to widely dispersed jobs is the big challenge - 25% of individual carbon footprint in U.S. surburbia. So, I believe that LMC residents will use regional ridematching systems to form carpools, and will further innovate once they get to work with scooters or dedicated bikes at work. I think LMCs will have enough peer pressure to make reducing commute carbon a big effort, and this will cause most residents to try out inconvenient alternatives. I believe there is plenty of unused capability to form commute carpools in suburbia, despite the dispersed nature of commuting patterns. (I conduct GIS studies of suburban commuting patterns, see: http://www.cities21.org/BABPC/ ) I suppose some LMCs more than others would have a social norm of "frugaility," - this would lead to tool sharing. I think the frugal http://transitiontowns.org/Main/HomePage will lead to tool sharing, it's part of their philosophy. At the same time, it will be good to create multiple LMCs with different personalities to then share what works and what doesn't work between all the LMCs.
4. You say there would be a "wow factor" if folks knew of a 50% carbon footprint reduction. It might be more of a "huh?" factor. Many would not know what a carbon footprint is, and some who do would not care that it is reduced. Recast that into an X% reduction on energy bills and lawn care bills and you might have a bigger seller. Right, go for a bottom line, pocketbook benefit. It's a good question from a marketing standpoint. I guess I live in a wealthy, highly-educated community (SF Bay Area) where there is widespread, superficial support for green climate protection and where pocket book issues are probably ranked lower. I suppose it comes down to picking the best marketing strategy for the local context. I would think that the majority of the developed world rank pocketbook over climate in 2008, but this might reverse by 2015 or 2020.
5. If the forced pledge could be accomplished could the developer not also engineer and build greener houses and greener neighborhoods? (narrower streets, pedestrian paths to bus stops with shelters, minimized storm run off, "prairie lawns" instead of high maintenance grass, efficient street lighting) I think it would be most natural for an LMC development to meet LEED ND standards. The other big thing is simply having less housing square footage per resident (smart growth, mixed use, walkable neighborhood, etc) including futons / Murphy beds so that there isn't square footage dedicated to bedrooms. I would foresee LMC residents asking for green upgrades to their physical community after-the-fact as well. Would such a culture implement a community-wide composting program and other such items?
The NC RE3.org recycling campaign is targeted to 18-34 year olds and utilizes social media to communicate with the intended audience. A presentation found here shows the background info and surveys we have conducted about using this medium along with lessons learned -
http://re3org.blogspot.com/ - Blog
http://www.facebook.com/people/Rethree_Dotorg/539580868 - Facebook
http://www.youtube.com/re3org - YouTube
http://www.myspace.com/re3org - MySpace
http://www.flickr.com/photos/re3org/ - Flickr
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RE3.org - Wikipedia --
Water Tower Aficionado
My sense, Martin, is that you have identified a thriving communications medium that is most promising at least in terms of the size and loyalty of its primary audience. Traditional community-based marketers have yet to develop strategies for messaging successfully within these milieux. At least I don't see much strategic or tactical information in books, articles, trainings, and even the web itself.
WA Department of Ecology