Less Shouting and More Talking: 5 Ways to Engage an Online Audience

28 Aug 2012Chris Wolf

As SustainAbility’s web and digital media manager, I’ve been looking at how online tools and technologies can be used to support our work on The Regeneration Roadmap.

The ambitions for the project are high, and engaging the right people in the right way will be key. Online platforms can play a significant role here: today there are fewer barriers than ever in mobilising people from all backgrounds and geographies to shape and get behind a campaign. From video blogging and social discussion forums to idea generation and crowd sourcing websites, the options available are seemingly endless. But where do you start?

I reviewed a wide range of recent and ongoing web campaigns, and discovered some great examples of online engagement which others may find useful. I’ve picked five to share with you here: some are from the sustainability field and others are not, but hopefully they will all serve as a source of inspiration for your own sustainability initiatives.

1. CounterSpill

Counterspill was set up to act as a counter balance to what the site’s founders perceived to be one-sided reporting of energy news and disasters – but this goes far beyond a reactionary blog.

The website utilises an intuitive and interactive geographic map and timeline to highlight the location and frequency of energy disasters and events. These visualisations employ mixed media content (video, imagery, text) and beautifully-crafted infographics to really bring the stories to life. Visitors to the site are invited to take action by sharing the resource across their networks, and signing up to be kept abreast of news stories as they break.

The end result is a site that goes a step beyond just reporting an alternative point of view. A simple architecture and clever presentation offer visitors an at-a-glance understanding of the big picture complemented by highly detailed source material.

Engagement approaches

  • Visualisations / infographics
  • Blogging
  • Video diaries

Visit the CounterSpill website.

2. Connect A Million Minds

Time Warner Cable’s Connect a Million Minds is a five-year philanthropic initiative to address America’s declining proficiency in science, technology, engineering and math.

The website blends pledging and proximity networking to engage users effectively. A “fulfilment wall” showcases examples of community projects, and users are invited to post their own experiences. There is a “connectory” which allows users to search for facilities and resources in their local area to help them organise their own projects, and eligible applicants can request support. The campaign is given life through a series of relevant blog articles, and users are invited to pledge their support and involvement in campaigns across their social networks.

By connecting visitors to local resources and information this project succeeds in making its campaign relevant and accessible.

Engagement approaches

  • Offline events supported by online toolkits
  • Blogging
  • Online pledging

Visit the Connect A Million Minds website.

3. Climate Dots

Climates Dots is an initiative by 350.org created to highlight how seemingly-unconnected natural disasters are all linked to climate change, by literally ‘connecting the dots’. The campaign called on communities across the globe to hold rallies on 5th May 2012, with a focus on those areas most affected by climate change. At each rally someone would hold up a large physical dot enabling the campaigners to create a physical map of climate change effects globally.

The website is inviting, intuitive and engaging, offering a host of different ways for people to get involved. Visitors are invited to hold their own “Dot” events, and the website provides an event toolkit and online support resource containing activity ideas, printable materials, media guides, and presentations to get organisers started.

This call to action is supported by visual infographics, video diaries from current organisers, and blogs from past events, which together help build up a compelling picture of the community and the campaign.

Climate Dots is a great example of how the digital sharing of tools, resources and support can be used to mobilise otherwise passive visitors to take action in the ‘real’ world, and to build truly global communities.

Engagement approaches

  • Visualisations / infographics
  • Offline events supported by online toolkits
  • Blogging
  • Video diaries

Visit the Climate Dots website.

4. It Gets Better Project

ItGetsBetter.org is a place where young people who are lesbian, gay, bi, or trans can see how love and happiness can be a reality in their future. Set up as a response to a number of teens taking their own lives after being bullied at school, it’s a place where people can share their stories and connect with a support network of others facing the same life challenges.

The main aspect of the site is a series of highly personal video diaries of teens sharing their own experiences, and friends and families pledging their support. This video content is user generated, and anyone can upload their own video diary for showcase on the site. Site visitors are also invited to “Take the Pledge” that they will respect others’ individuality and speak out against intolerance where they find it. The site is a model example of successful social media integration with communities active across Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and more.

The It Gets Better project is a best practice example of how video content can be harnessed to provide a deeply online personal experience. Through user generated content and social networking the project has empowered its visitors to connect and get access to valuable support and guidance.

Engagement Strategies

  • Video diaries
  • Blogging
  • Social networking
  • Online pledging

Visit the It Gets Better website.

5. New Rainbow Warrior

Greenpeace has launched an innovative crowdsourcing campaign to fund the construction of its new Rainbow Warrior. The campaign centres around an immersive experiential website which allows users to explore the new ship’s blueprints and gain an understanding of the make-up and functionality of its component parts. This is further brought to life through video diaries of campaigners detailing their experiences on the old Rainbow Warrior, together with a time-lapse film of construction on the new build.

Users are encouraged to contribute by buying a component for the ship through an online shop. Contributors receive a certificate of ownership for the component they purchase, and their name will appear on a dedication wall to be installed on the ship.

Greenpeace have leveraged the concept of crowd sourcing in a pitch-perfect way, giving supporters a sense of involvement and ownership over the input they have in fundraising for the new venture.

Engagement Strategies

  • Crowd sourcing
  • Immersive online environments
  • Video diaries

Visit the New Rainbow Warrior website.

Watch this space…

In October I’ll be writing a follow-up to this post, where I’ll be looking at lessons we can learn about effective online engagement strategy from campaigns like these. In the meantime if you come across any other great examples please leave a comment below.

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