Here are some guides to help get a grip on some basics for effective climate change communications:
Building a communications strategy
There are lots of excellent guides out there that can help you to build a communication strategy that works for your campaign . There is no single definitive way to build a communications strategy but any approach should incorporate the following:
- Narrative arc
Here are some guides for building a communications strategy:
Well-identified and segmented core audiences can avoid wasted time and money on non-relevant groups (e.g. unconcerned, already convinced). You need to decide which group or groups of people you need to target and this should be defined by triangulating between your overall objectives (Step 4), influencer mapping (Step 3), and further research into public demographics and attitudes to your campaign issue. Remember that your target audience cannot be ‘everyone’ or ‘the public’ – it should be a clearly defined group or groups that can anchor support for your campaign and influence key decision-makers. One way to find your core audience(s) is to check-off the following:
- Check your objectives
Assess your campaign objectives to determine if there are specific audience related goals. For instance, if you are seeking to raise the profile of renewable energy solutions in a certain area or with a certain demographic then this instantly focuses your target audience to a specific location or audience segment.
- Check your stakeholder map
Use your stakeholder mapping to determine which decision-makers and windows of opportunity are most important to your campaign. Then consider which groups of people or audience segments are likely to have most influence over these decision-makers. Ask yourself:
- Are your key decision makers elected officials? If so, where is their constituency and who represents the core demographic of their support?
- Are your key decision makers in business or finance? If so, who is their key customer base? Who are the key shareholders?
- Are your key decision makers civil society representatives? If so, who forms their core membership or support base?
- Check your potential audiences
It is important to find out as much as you can about public attitudes and perceptions to your key campaign issues to better define audience segments, and develop specific, targeted communications messages. For example, by researching opinion surveys on renewable energy you might be able to see which groups are most likely to be natural supporters, swingers or in opposition to your campaign and which kinds of policies or projects they are most likely to support. To determine this you will want to find out as much as you can about the beliefs, values, needs, desires and interpretations of key audience groups as you hone in on your target audience. This information will also help you to construct your messaging so that it has the intended impact.
Here are some guides to help you consider how to tackle certain audiences:
Yale Program on Climate Change Communication – Audiences (includes segmentation for the US and India)
Yale Program on Climate Change Communication – Beliefs and Attitudes
Know-How Non-Profit – Guide to Segmentation and Targeting
There are a number of different ways to reach your audience including via newspapers, broadcast media, verbal speech, SMS, artwork, online news, social media, phone/tablet applications and email. To decide on the mode(s) that you choose to employ you should consider:
- The type of message you have
- The voice you are using to deliver your message
- The audience you want to reach
If you have an authoritative medical representative, you want to connect with a rural population in Tanzania to deliver a message on the public health benefits of ditching fossil fuels for renewable energy you might want to consider channels like radio broadcast or regional/local newspaper outlets.
Let’s focus on two key channels you should try to employ in your campaign – traditional media and social media:
It is useful to develop a basic understanding of the media landscape in the region or countries you are running your campaign. This means building an understanding of key news outlets (print and broadcast), you can ask questions like:
- What are their editorial priorities?
- Who are their leading journalists?
- What is their political stance on your key issues?
- What is their day-to-day work cycle?
- Where is their market and who is their primary audience?
Getting answers to these questions can help you to build a media list of relevant contacts at a range of different types of outlet. It is useful to build a media list that covers a range of different types of outlet from national broadcasters, to international wires, to periodicals. Getting answers to these questions can also help you decide which outlet(s) to target in order to get your message to your desired audience.
There are a range of different ways to make a media intervention that include: issuing media advisories and press releases, arranging broadcast interviews, placing opinion editorials and placing advertisements. For a step by step guide to some of the basics check out 350’s media guide – developed for the Break Free mobilisation – which offers a range of practical tips for preparing for and carrying out campaign media interventions.
There is a huge range of social media platforms and while Facebook and Twitter are global it is still worth checking your regional social media landscape to see if there are other, more popular digital tools for getting campaign messages to your audience.
Social media is a versatile, interactive communications channel for your campaign. You can use it for a range of interventions including:
- Live-Streaming events
- Hosting live Q&A’s
- Registering volunteers for events/actions
- Campaign Donations
- Target amplification/direct messaging
It is a quickly changing information environment with shifting trends. At present, the majority of online news is reached via social media sites, so you should always consider a social media push to amplify anything you have published. At present, 8 billion videos are played daily on Facebook, so if this is a channel you are using then consider this format. This toolkit from 350.org is a good practical example of how you can utilise various social media channels to deliver your campaign.
Research shows that cultural values and identity is far more important for forming people’s attitudes than data and science. When people’s values are challenged or undermined – as often happens around climate change – they react with a defensive opposition or denial. Good messaging for a campaign, on 100% renewable energy for example, should therefore be tailored to the existing values of the audience. Key questions to ask when shaping your messaging include:
- Who am I talking to?
- What are their core values?
- What makes them proud of who they are?
- How is my language and argument validating and reinforcing those values?
There are some golden rules to follow that will further help you to shape an effective message for key campaign moments.
Be inspiring but stay realistic – try to avoid sensational claims, particularly about what may happen in the future – a light touch is more likely to be respected.
Speak from moral principle – people respect campaigning organisations for their moral principles, but are less trusting of their authority on economics or business – use other voices for these messages.
Authenticity – People distrust slogans and slick messaging. Try not to needlessly repeat the keywords, and maintain a natural voice. Apply messages through stories, describe real people, and, in speeches and interviews tell stories from your own life and experience – speaking from the ‘I’ not the ‘We’. Try to always use case studies, show who is talking and avoid anonymous voice-overs in videos.
Values and identity – consider the key qualities that give people in your audience a sense of pride and identity. Incorporate these into your communications: validate and respect them and show how renewables build on their values.
Avoid “insider” language – environmental advocates consistently use language that is exclusive, or reinforces the prejudice that they do not understand or share common values.
There are some messaging tips for 100% renewable energy campaigning that might also be useful. First off, it helps to present fossil fuels and a world powered solely by renewables as two sides of the coin, as binary choices, which form a deep part of human thinking. You can do this using adjectives like:
||New, future, renewal
It is best to situate your messaging for a single campaign moment within a broader narrative for the entire campaign (for a definition of narrative see the start of the communications section). Your messaging at any single time should be consistent with this narrative and can employ a range of different voices, deployed at different campaign moments. To help you develop a narrative for a 100% renewable energy campaign you can expand on the following arc:
- We are facing real challenges that threaten our values.
- But we are capable, creative and strong. We are proud of who we are.
- Building renewables/taking action on climate change shows us at our very best.
- There are obstacles, but we can overcome them when we work together in our best
- We will build a new energy system that makes the world more what we want it to be and reinforces the values we cherish.