Avoiding chirping into a green void can be tricky...

By Zoe Holliday

I know it’s ironic to write this on a blog, but I’ve become somewhat disillusioned with social media lately. It all started when I realised that I’d become one of those people who posts about what they’ve had for dinner. I’ve always been critical of people who tweet mundane/trite bits of information about their day-to-day lives. Turns out that I am one of those people.

Then I started to realise what a terrifying number of my friends who don’t actually interact with me on facebook/twitter were reading my posts. This has started to impede conversation in real life; I regularly start telling a friend something and they inform me that they know, because they’ve read it on facebook (turns out I also talk about what I have for dinner a lot).

The final slap in the face(book) was when I realised that despite having hundreds of “friends” on my account, any attempts to mobilise them into action by, for example, suggesting we go for a drink, has a truly pitiful response rate. Less social networking, more social not working.

But in an era when more than one in every five hours spent by UK users on the internet is on a social networking site, organisations cannot afford to ignore social media. So how can you avoid my mistakes and create content that is interesting, encourages interaction and inspires action? In the field of energy efficiency and sustainability, doing just this is what it’s all about – or else your whole point is going to be rendered pretty much pointless.

Interesting content is a given, considering the average ‘half life’ of Facebook and Twitter links (the amount of time after its peak at which it has had half of the clicks it will ever receive) is only around 3 hours. It’s a simple and immediate way to convey an energy-saving message or an offer available to help people make a sustainable change, but if it’s not interactive and you’re just firing links out blankly, chances are that interest will wane yet quicker. What else?

Well, social media should always be a two-way process – and that means both creating content that people want to respond to, but also replying if they get in contact with you. After they realised that the number of complaints and enquiries on their Twitter account was increasing, Norfolk County Council handed over responsibility for responding to these queries to its customer service team; their account is now picking up 500 followers per month, which their media officer recognises is in no small part due to the fact that tweeters get a quick and friendly response to any compliment or complaint.

Monmouthshire County Council took the idea of sharing responsibility for online content one step further and opened social media access to all staff, to encourage them to engage more effectively with colleagues, residents and partners. A dangerous move? Well not really. If the statistics (and, oddly, a survey of my own friends) are to be believed, more people own a mobile phone than a toothbrush. Employees will find a way to access social media during working hours if they want to. So why not encourage them to put it to good use?

Here’s the tricky part, though – how do you use social media to encourage people to actually do something? The toughest ask of all, and clearly not something I’ve been personally successful in.

But there have been some interesting campaigns out there, using everything from competitions (like the American Alliance to Save Energy’s Drive Smarter Video Contest), through appeals to social responsibility (like Lewisham Council’s Love Lewisham campaign, which allows residents to sign in with social media accounts to upload photos of issues such as damaged footpaths or recycling bins) to the time-tested method of peer pressure… in the US, Opower’s newly launched facebook app supported by 15 utilities allows users to compare their own energy use to similar homes (using a national database) and to compete against friends to reduce energy use and improve efficiency.

This idea might not be so far off for the UK – just the other day Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg announced that the Government will be trialling OPower’s home energy software. Watch this space….

How do you use social media? Who do you follow? Tell us in the comments box below, like us facebook us or give us a tweet @EnergySvgTrust – we’d love to hear from you. (Unless it’s about what you had for dinner)