26 November, 2018

Tackling climate change, with the help of social media

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With the latest reports on climate change delivering troubling conclusions, our environment’s potential future has made a number of recent headlines and thrust itself firmly into the public eye.


However, while concern regarding climate change has steadily grown among the populace, political support to represent this is seen by many to be insufficient.


Looking at Australia as an example, a leading think tank’s 2018 study found that the number of Australians who believed global warming to be a serious and pressing concern had grown to 59% (up 23% in just six years) and the countering percentage of the population who felt steps should not be taken if they were to lead to economic costs had fallen as low as 10% (down 8% in the same period). Despite the clear shift toward environmentally responsible thinking though, the Australian political system has been unable to establish a stable long lasting climate change policy to allow the economy to smoothly decarbonise.


With a political system unable to provide the framework necessary to address climate change, does the fact the issue has popular support actually matter? Can caring about the environment as an individual, or a community, really make a difference?



The power of social media to alter corporate behaviour


Since its inception, social media has grown to a point where it now plays a significant role in many people’s lives. In 2018 the number of internet users passed 4 billion, with users of social media climbing to almost 3.2 billion.


With the rise of social media, we’ve seen a number of benefits as a society. We’re more connected than we’ve ever been and our overall awareness of ourselves, our way of life, and events around us is greater than our forefathers could have ever envisioned.


For businesses, social media can be a blessing but also a curse. It can open the whole world as a potential consumer, promoting brands and products cheaper and more effectively than many alternatives, but it can also open up pitfalls that without proper care and attention can lead to a social backlash.


In some cases, falling foul of social media can be a simple embarrassment. In others however, the cost can be far more painful.


One example of social media erupting into a public relations disaster and severely damaging a company’s bottom line is ‘United Breaks Guitars’. ‘United Breaks Guitars’ is a trio of protest songs which came into existence after musician Dave Carroll witnessed his guitar being poorly transported by baggage handlers for United Airlines, resulting in the instrument suffering major damage. After nine months of attempting to claim compensation from the airline to no effect, the musician wrote and released the initial song.


On the first day the song’s YouTube video amassed 150,000 views. Within three days this had grown to over 500,000. A few more days and the song became number one on the iTunes Music Store, and a little over a month later the video had been viewed over 5,000,000 times.


United, after nine months of inaction, contacted Dave Carroll the day of the song’s release offering to make things right. Unfortunately, the damage was already done. As well as the airline’s public image taking a nasty hit, within four weeks United’s stock price fell 10%, costing shareholders $180 million in value.



‘United Breaks Guitars’ is just one of many examples where negative exposure on social media has had a real and tangible impact on a business. In today’s world, corporations simply cannot afford to ignore their public perception.


For climate change, as support and awareness continues to grow in the populace, so too must emitters increasingly consider their contribution to the problem. Many already do. For those that don’t, as long as members of the public feel that the issue is worth addressing, and ensure their voice on social media reflects that stance, this could still change.


As a society, we no longer have to rely on governments to enforce socially responsible thinking. Instead, social media packs a considerable punch and we can do it ourselves.