President-elect Obama’s team has suggested that social media be employed as a tool to change consumer behavior about energy. So how would that work? What are the social drivers that will make people change their minds about energy consumption? And what are the tools to use today to reach people?
First, don’t underestimate the power of “keeping up with the Joneses.” Though most consumers are loathe to admit it, several utilities have had phenomenal success with mailings that tell customers they’re paying more, on average, than their neighbors for their monthly utility bill. Those customers are encouraged to call the utility to learn what they could do to lower their bills. Many do. Why? Because nobody wants to feel like the odd man out or, worse, like the dumbest kid in class. Peer pressure works…which is why the social media idea is a good one.
The way it must work – our advice to the Obama camp – is a one-two punch of the emotional play (feeling smart/in the know) with something cool/an event that people will want to be a part of. What doesn’t work is trying to translate traditional marketing into social media. Here are some ideas to consider:
- A live event with an online counterpart. Think “Biggest Loser” where people go away to lose weight in a contained environment, but then the online component lets other users compete from home, track their results and so on. (http://www.nbc.com/The_Biggest_Loser/). Now take that a step further to the “Biggest Loser” for Green/Energy Efficiency…people who are wasting energy and spending more than they should but can’t seem to stop themselves and have no concept of what it means to be green. There’s an at-home intervention and the participants are told by an expert how much they are wasting and offered easy ways to be efficient/green. The online component supports this and people can upload photos of their newly green homes, there could be daily challenges on simple changes to do in your life to go green, and so on.
- Top ten lists work…but the ones that work best are the opposite of what you would expect. For example, people already know the Top 10 reasons to buy travel insurance (boring). What works is to instead show them the 10 worst mishaps by people who did not buy insurance – luggage open on the tarmac, a dingy, dirty waiting room in a rural jungle hospital, etc. The same can be done with green. A top 10 list can be created of the Top 10 Worst Things To Do For the Environment…or the Top 10 Things Most Likely to Happen With the Planet in Fifty Years. An interactive tool with Google Earth could be created to show visitors what a certain place on earth will look if nothing changes…and perhaps give them the opportunity to do things virtually that reverse/heal the situation.
- Lastly, humor works. There are a number of funny online videos and games that allow the visitor to personally engage in an online experience, that then takes him/her to a brand website and encourages viral sharing of the experience. The “Dog House” drives people (specifically men) into JCPenney to make jewelry purchases. It opens with a video about men being sent to the “dog house” and then allows users to upload photos of people they want to put in the dog house and so on. http://www.bestviral.com/video/19188/beware_of_the_doghouse_hilarious. It’s very funny, and it works. The same could be done to encourage energy efficient and green behaviors. In fact, Cotton, The Fabric of Our Lives, created a fun game show to test the user’s green acumen: http://www.thefabricofourlives.com/cotton-green-quiz/?gclid=CJ-Js4mfoZcCFQikHgodeVF4JQ
The new administration has the right idea. It’s just a matter of putting it into action.