Addressing Climate Change Through Social Media

Can people in the heritage sector use social media to inspire action on climate change? Ahead of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (also known as COP26), the group heard from Hannah Genders Boyd, a climate heritage researcher, archaeologist, and former Historic Environment Scotland Climate Change Intern.

Climate change is seriously affecting Scotland and will increasingly affect it in number of ways, from historic buildings with overflowing downpipes in urban settings to archaeological sites by the sea at risk from coastal erosion.

If that’s not enough to convince you, Hannah also flagged up the fact that a lot of young people are already engaged with climate change on social media, which is a demographic that the heritage sector often struggles to reach. Finding where you genuinely intersect with these climate change /sustainability audiences (e.g. engaging with activists) could be a real opportunity for your organisation.  

Ready to get started? We’ve shared some of her top tips below:

1. Focus on facts, mitigation, adaptation, sustainability

If you’re struggling for content, stats in the form of icons and infographics can be really useful.

It’s also helpful to focus on positive news stories – for example, what your organisation has done to become greener (e.g. bike locks and trails, a water bottle refill scheme, bus/train timetables available on your website, walking tours lining up with bus/train times).

You can also post about how your organisation is going to respond to the climate emergency (also known as “being climate ready” or “future proofing”) or ways you’ve improved biodiversity at your site.

2. Be prepared to address misconceptions

Climate change is a “big difficult subject” which isn’t well understood by a lot of people and a lot of folks think they know more about it then they do. “Global warming” doesn’t mean that it’ll be nice and tropical in Scotland and the debate around overpopulation has been challenged for having racist elements.

If you encounter full-blown climate change deniers, it’s important to shut it down kindly and gently. Don’t give space to it as an opinion.

3. Get your facts right and make your messaging easy to understand

Think of it as science communication (also known as SciComm). How much of the data do you personally understand? Is the statistic that you’re presenting valid? Is the report from a reliable source (like the Scottish Government or Adaptation Scotland)? Could the infographic be misconstrued?

Where possible, tie these messages to relatable or simpler ideas that people can easily understand. For example, a statistic regarding percentage increase in rainfall in Scotland could be discussed in terms of increasing numbers of rainy days that your readers are likely to get wet walking to work. Making it as relatable as possible is the way to communicate these complex and big subjects in a positive and engaging way.

4. Tell a story

The heritage sector is already good at storytelling, so use this to your advantage – especially during Scotland’s Year of Stories 2022.

One way that this has been done by the US National Parks Service was by using the And, But, Therefore template to communicate climate change ideas more effectively (Rockman and Maase 2017). You could try using this technique to put your story across concisely.

5. Be aware of government policy

The Scottish and UK governments have different carbon targets (net zero by 2045 vs net zero by 2050) and have responded differently to climate activism, so take note of these differences and think about where you want to align yourself on the spectrum.

Where can your organisation position itself in terms of climate activism? How much can you share? If you can’t be more radical, that’s fine – it’s just something to be familiar with.

6. Meet people halfway

A lot of people value built and cultural heritage, so this represents a good opportunity to engage audiences with topics they already care about.

Meet people where they are and show connections between the things they value and climate change (for example, talking about heritage that would otherwise be lost).

7. Engage audiences on an appropriate emotional level

Climate change is a really emotive issue which hasn’t been respected and validated enough by the scientific community, resulting in poor science communication around climate change. Frightening, overwhelming and upsetting messaging is not a helpful way to engage with people. Instead, it makes them stand back and say, “there’s nothing I can do”. 

Try to include tangible and empowering content to encourage your audience, such as asking for help with planting projects at local sites or monitoring local coastlines. It also helps to remind people that positive tweaks (even small ones) are in line with Scottish policy change, so it does add up.

Want to learn more? Follow @HGendersBoyd on Twitter or check out the article she wrote for Dig It!.

Header Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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