Haulers, waste agencies and environmental outreach professionals have been working for decades to improve the U.S. recycling rate, yet overall the country’s recycling rate is around 34 percent – so there is much room for improvement.
Part of the challenge that we see is putting the emphasis on operational facts before attracting people with an emotional appeal. Search for “recycling” in YouTube and you get almost 900,000 results. Most of the top hits focus on how to recycle. Some examine if it works, or problems with recycling. But very few focus on why people should recycle, which is a very important factor in encouraging behavior change. In fact, the video results indicate how we take recycling for granted, assuming everyone is already on board and participating. The truth is, even with established behavioral practices, it helps to periodically boost morale with a new appeal that is fun, moving, or otherwise stirs our feelings.
There’s a kind of taxonomy that emerges if you look at enough videos that encourage recycling. Here are some categories with examples of different approaches, mostly light-hearted, that aim to increase recycling and composting activities:
“Here’s What to Do”
This is a classic “what goes where” video from Livonia, Michigan. The viewer is given no context, no appeal to emotion, just “this is what to do.” (And it’s not so simple, either!). While the information is important, the delivery could be more compelling:
Hot Tunes and Celebrity Sightings
This 1991 classic from an earlier time of recycling outreach has action-packed celebrity sightings and groovy music in an attempt to make recycling cool. The video played on MTV and in move houses and was part of an integrated campaign by the Take it Back Foundation that included classroom curricula and the development of a resolution introduced to the House and Senate to declare April 15 “National Recycling Day.” It’s a great example of use of using a catchy campaign to increase awareness. (Bonus – how many of the celebs can you name?)
This Cal Recycle video combines humor and a self-deprecating celebrity “endorsement” from Ed Begley Jr., as the public is shown that you don’t have to be a star to make a difference.
Some campaigns take the point of view of the stuff being recycled rather than the recycler, as in this video from Keep America Beautiful. It was created following research that showed that only 10 percent of Americans have a recycling bin in their bathroom:
Personifying the Bin
If creating empathy for trash doesn’t help, how about empathy for the recycling and compost bins? Here’s one example from the UK, aimed at making folks more mindful of those useful outdoor bins:
At Gigantic, we thought that creating an organics cart mascot would raise awareness, and use of the green cart when we created this video for the City of Livermore:
We’ll be looking at the use of memorable messaging to increase recycling and composting participation during our session “Not Just the Facts, Ma’am: Getting the Message to Matter” at the CRRA conference this August. We hope to see you there!
A recent survey by the Consumer Electronics Association has some fairly depressing statistics (for example, 18 percent of consumers say they discarded electronics devices in the trash during the last year, a six point increase from 2012), but another result caught our eye: according to the survey, “nearly half of consumers (42 percent) first learned how to recycle their old devices by word of mouth from friends, family or co-workers.”
Surprising? Not at all. Study after study shows the importance of friends, family and co-workers on influencing all kinds of behavior. Nielsen’s 2013 survey of trust in advertising channels shows that 84% of respondents say word of mouth from family and friends was the most trustworthy form of persuasion. For those of us involved in green behavior change, this is good news, since we usually don’t have the budget for Coca-Cola-style mass media campaigns. However, word of mouth still needs to be made simple in order to get your ideas to spread.
So how to design campaigns that enhance the power of friends and family?
To enable word of mouth, we need to reach people, give them the information they need in an appealing, trustworthy and shareable form, and help them to feel that their sharing will be appreciated. A writer for Forbes describes this as the three E’s: Engage, Equip and Empower.
Of course, word of mouth alone cannot create behavior change, but it can be an important tool in a multi-touch campaign. Some questions to ask while designing our environmental behavior change campaigns include:
Are we being clear? Are we using terms that make sense to our audience? As we’ve seen in our research, it’s not a good idea to make assumptions about what people know about waste or water quality.
Are we providing the tools that people need to spread the word? People will be more likely to spread the word if they are equipped with catchy facts, a story, or shareable content. Is there such a thing as too many facts and data? For spreading messages, the answer is yes.
Have we asked for help? So simple, but so frequently overlooked. Just by saying “Let your neighbors know …” or “Please Retweet or Share,” your messages are more likely to be spread. Thanking people afterwards is even more powerful.
As we plan for new behavior change campaigns in 2015, the Gigantic team will be focused on fostering the thousands of individual conversations, both off and online, that will move us closer to a sustainable world. Let’s spread the word!
At Gigantic, we always try to be creative and light-hearted, so when it came time to send a New Year’s greeting to our email list, we decided to try something a bit different: a greeting with a link to a five-second poll, asking folks to vote on which of the two images (below) they would most likely click:
Our greeting was sent to Gigantic’s email list and posted via Facebook and Twitter. We were delighted by the response: a 46% open rate on the email, a whopping 64% click-through rate, 101 poll votes and over a dozen comments on the blog. We know via Analytics that most of the visitors on January 6 (the day we published the poll) were new to our website, and that on average, folks stayed on our site nearly one minute — not bad for a 5-second poll!
Our original intent was to draw attention to the popularity of cat memes and to suggest that pop culture knows a thing or two about spreading ideas. Well, you surprised us. The winner is … Option A! Receiving 58 percent of the votes, this more serious image showed a stale fruitcake going into a typical organics pail for composting. The adorable kitty, juggling the fruitcake before tossing it in the bin, garnered only 42 percent. This startled us on several counts (we thought the kitty was cute and was the obvious choice for attracting more eyeballs), and as we analyzed the results, we drew several lessons:
Clarity matters. Several comments argued that more specificity was needed in the kitten image, noting that it wasn’t clear that the fruitcake was destined for the bin in Option B. Our text asked two questions: “Which image are you more likely to click?” and then “Which image do you find more memorable and effective for getting out the food scrap recycling message?” In hindsight, we realize that combining “memorable” and “effective” confused the issue. Our intention was to illustrate the importance of getting attention before providing information; our wording needed work. Which leads us to:
Testing matters. Had this been a “real” campaign, we would have spent a lot more time designing our objectives and creating alternative messaging. Ideally we would have run a pilot, testing images, messages and the manner of distribution to match the kind of data we wanted to elicit.
Engagement matters. Before we can deliver any message, we have to cut through the “noise” and get attention. The volume of response, via email opens, click-throughs, and blog comments, far outran previous e-blasts to our clients. Frankly, this was one of our goals: to test how and if we could stand out amid the dozens of emailed New Year’s greetings. We focused on a short, punchy subject line that emphasized a time-limited response and a request for assistance (“help our research by taking this 5-second survey”). This probably aided our open and click-through rates.
Once we drew visitors to the blog post, we included the kitten picture as a way of drawing the eye, because we know the best messaging in the world won’t get through if we can’t attract attention. While the image in Option A may have been more clear, we note that much of the reaction centered around the kitten. Does this mean we’re suggesting that everyone should use kittens in their recycling campaigns from now on? Not at all. But paying attention to what’s “hot” in pop culture could yield some great outreach ideas that might lead to an increased waste diversion rate (or whatever your particular goal is).
As with all campaigns, we resolve to take this learning and build upon it for future efforts. Thanks to all who voted, and may your 2014 be filled with fun and effective green behavior change campaigns, with or without kittens!
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Agencies focused on green behavior change — such as recycling, energy use, and water conservation — have a lot on their plates. Tackling the ravenous, always-open maw of social media can seem a daunting task to add to that already bulging to-do list. But if your goal is to reach people at a time and place where they’re likely to be receptive, social media merits a prominent place on that list of tasks.
Here are six commandments that may help guide your agency’s social media tactics and conserve time and money:
Commandment #1—Thou Shalt Not Attempt To Be All Things To All People. You may think that you need a presence on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Vine and Tumblr (wait, what about Reddit? Google+?), but that is nearly impossible with limited time and resources. It’s also unnecessary. Pick one or two channels, based on where your target audience is, and where chances are good they will be open to messaging about waste, recycling, energy, etc. Got lots of great visuals of re-use projects for the home? Consider a Pinterest account. Have a grants program aimed at helping local businesses streamline operations? Look to LinkedIn and Twitter. Study each channel’s advantages and culture, and pick the best fit for your overall outreach goals. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself reaching that choir and making your campaigns sing.
Commandment #2—Thou Shalt Not Be Boring. Effective social media is a many-way street. Social media audiences, by definition, expect the channel to be interactive and responsive. Treating it like a bulletin board (“Here’s our new program”; “Do what we say”) will eventually cause your audience to tune you out. This leads us to …
Commandment #3—Thou Shalt Provide Relevant, Interesting Content. Content marketing is king these days, and that quirky infographic, eye-catching image or catchy video is key to capturing the eye of the people you most want to reach. Stick to your core subjects but find an angle that makes those subjects matter to those who matter to you. This leads us to:
Commandment #4—Thou Shalt Be Strategic. Having written social media guidelines will streamline your work and allow tasks to be shared or passed on without wheel re-invention. Guidelines should include topics, tone, type and frequency of posts, all the while referring back to your overall outreach goals. This will save time and ensure you present a consistent public face.
Commandment #5—Thou Shalt Listen Intently … And Respond. Social media is not about you; it’s about what other people are saying about you and your programs. Use Google Alerts or other tools to listen in on what folks are saying about your issue, good and bad. Find the influencers in your field and build relationships over social media before you ask them for any favors. And if someone is kind enough to praise your program or ask a question, a prompt response demonstrates that your agency listens and cares.
Commandment #6—Thou Shalt be Flexible. As with any marketing tactic, evaluation and measurement are essential. If a social media channel is not working (and you’ve given it the old college try), modify your approach. A drop-off in engagement could be an early sign that your message, channel or both aren’t working. The only certainty in the world of social media is that it moves fast, fast, fast. So take a gulp of coffee and look at your analytics (web metrics, Facebook Insights, YouTube views, etc.) with a critical eye.
Lastly, the Golden Rule. No, not a new one. The Golden Rule you already know. “Do unto others …” works in social media as in life. Take the time to support relevant causes, applaud others’ efforts, respond to comments and thank your supporters. Agencies that take the time to participate fully in this amazing global phenomenon will stand out and enjoy remarkable returns.
The Gigantic team is delighted that our newly designed website has gone live. The process of redesign, including a new identity, is something we take clients through all the time. Going through it ourselves reminded us of three ways a website is like a garden.
1. From seed to sprout, it always takes longer than you think. Redesigning and freshening content for a few web pages —- how hard can it be? Pretty challenging, actually. The website needs to reflect who you are, where you are going, and what you do..AND it’s got to do it in clearly organized, attractive and memorable chunks. Inevitably, internal differences are revealed as the organization re-examines its mission, values and direction— good discussions ensue, but they need time to be resolved. We typically allow six to eight months for a full re-design.
2. Choose easy maintenance over a gardening service. Websites can have so many cool features these days, but time and again we see organizations that have to rely on outside technical assistance to change a comma or upload a new photo. It’s important to:
- Be realistic about internal capacities and get training on site upkeep as needed;
- Have enough staff who understand and can use the content management system;
- Document, document, document your procedures.
3. A living thing needs careful tending. Remember when when we overprinted time-limited brochures, or someone missed an error in a key headline or messed up the date of the newsletter? The advantage, but sometime headache, of websites is that they are living entities. On the upside, that means you don’t have to live with errors and can make changes anytime you like. However, it also means you need to supply new content nourishment and occasionally prune what’s there. So the launch of a site is just the beginning and needs to be accompanied by a manual of procedures and style. The manual should include guidelines on updating content, maintaining SEO, organizational tone, evaluating traffic and staff responsibilities. Otherwise, that healthy new site can wilt very quickly.
The new Gigantic-idea.com came to fruition with the help of our partners at Jiva Creative. We look forward to helping our next client with their rebranded website. We know we’ll approach the project with renewed enthusiasm, not to mention a bit more humility, now that we’ve walked in their shoes!